Delta Air Lines said late Monday it would stop requiring masks on flights following a federal judge’s decision voiding the federal mask mandate for transportation.
Atlanta-based Delta posted a statement saying that effective immediately, masks are optional for its crew members and customers. Rivals including United Airlines, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines also said they would drop their mask requirements in the wake of the federal judge’s ruling and an announcement by the White House that the Transportation Security Administration would not enforce the provision.
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport issued a statement Tuesday morning saying masks are now “optional for employees, passengers, and visitors” at the airport.
“Although a mask mandate will no longer be enforced, employees, passengers, and visitors are reminded that masks continue to offer a level of protection against the covid virus,” the airport said.
Delta said its employees and customers may continue wearing masks if they choose to, adding that wearing a well-fitting mask “protects the wearer.”
Atlanta frequent flier Amy Morris was on a flight to San Francisco when the mask mandate was lifted.
“Somewhere over Denver, the pilot came on and told us he had just been notified they were not enforcing masks,” Morris said.
“There was some clapping,” she said. Then she estimates about 30% of passengers on the plane took off their masks.
Morris, who manages clinical trials for drug development, kept hers on.
“It was an interesting experience to see public health change mid-flight,” she said.
Delta added that given the unexpected nature of the announcement, following the federal ruling Monday: “You may experience inconsistent enforcement during the next 24 hours as this news is more broadly communicated – remember to show understanding and patience with others who may not be aware enforcement is no longer required.”
Delta said it would update its communications to customers and signs and announcements in airports.
The airline also added that mask mandates in other countries may still be in effect.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian last week told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that if the federal mask mandate were lifted, Delta would not require masks on flights.
Dallas-based Southwest, the second-largest airline at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, said late Monday that it would also now allow its employees and customers to “choose whether they would like to wear a mask.”
Many experts warn the pandemic is still a crisis. A World Health Organization committee met last week and agreed that the pandemic remains a public health emergency.
Coronavirus infections are near their lowest point nationally since July 2021 following a record-breaking omicron surge. COVID-19 cases are rising nationally, largely in the Northeast driven by an omicron subvariant called BA.2, but hospitalizations are at their lowest point since early in the pandemic.
Philadelphia recently announced plans to reinstate its indoor mask mandate amid an increase in infections.
“Knowing that we are going into this BA.2 wave, and knowing how much uncertainty is around that, it doesn’t seem to be the right moment to be making these types of decisions” to end the mask mandate on planes, state Rep. Rebecca Mitchell, D-Snellville, an infectious disease epidemiologist told the AJC last week.