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Travelers, Airline Workers Celebrate Lifting Of Mask Mandate

There can be no doubt that during the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic mask mandates were vital in keeping airline workers and their passengers safe. However, following large scale vaccination programs, the threat of the virus has changed and these kind of measures now play a less important role in combatting the virus. The pandemic is different to how it used to be, so surely our approach to dealing with it should be as well?

This is the opinion of federal Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who on Monday struck down the transport mask mandate introduced by the Biden administration. The mandate calls on the legal enforcement of mask wearing in all airplanes and most forms of public transport. This sparked a lawsuit from the Health Freedom and Defense Fund (HFDF) and two Florida residents who stated that the wearing of masks increased their vulnerability to anxiety and panic attacks, outlining that the mandate was “arbitrary and capricious” as it gave exemptions to some groups and not to others.

The judge agreed with the prosecutors and outlined that the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) acted unlawfully by failing to adequately justify its decision and overstepped its mandate. Following the ruling, the US Transport Authority quickly stated that it would no longer enforce the wearing of masks: a moment that sparked pure joy in thousands of passengers and staff.

Speaking to USA Today, Passenger Sarah Naranjo, from Pennsylvania, said that she had been traveling for days and the removal of the mask mandate was “something she had been waiting for,” removing her mask as soon as she was told she could. Another traveler, Jose Hernandez recalled during his interview how on his flight to Las Vegas when a flight attendant made the announcement that masks were no longer mandatory people started to cheer and applaud.

Passengers also took to social media to display their excitement at the news. Many passengers reported cheers as pilots told them that masks were now optional. One passenger, shared a video of his flight attendant singing “throw away your masks,” as he joyfully sprung down the aisle with a trash bag . Another, posted that flight attendants were dancing and most people removed their masks as soon as being told that they could. The tweet later received 51.7 thousand likes.

The ruling is also a victory for flight attendants and pilots who have had to routinely enforce the rules on mask-wearing for months – often at great personal risk. Following the announcement, reports of flight attendants crying with joy circulated online. This is hardly surprising when you consider that 65% of unruly passenger incidents reported last year were related to masks. More shockingly still, a survey by the Association of Flight Attendants discovered that 85% of all flight attendants personally had to deal with unruly passengers in 2021, with 17% experiencing violence.

As the threat of the omicron variant begins to ease it was only a matter of time until the U.S joined other countries in removing the mandate. In England, obligatory mask wearing on public transport has been removed, placing the decision to wear one into the hands of the person traveling. The same rules apply in Ireland, Sweden and Norway to name a few. Thanks to the roll out of vaccines, more people are protected from developing serious illness from Covid-19 and it is becoming increasing obvious that the strict enforcement of mask wearing puts pilots and flight attendants at risk from unruly and in some cases violent passengers.

Airlines have also been quick to respond to the new rules with United Airlines, Delta Airlines and American Airlines stating that the wearing of masks will be up to individual preferences. Just hours after the court decision, Delta, published a statement, saying that the wearing of masks would be optional for all travelers and employees. The company clarified that “Effective immediately, masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers inside U.S. airports and on board all aircraft domestically, as well as on most international flights.”

Delta also confirmed that they were happy to see the removal of the mask mandate, outlining that it would ease global travel and thanking their customers for being compliant over the years. CEO Ed Bastain, said in an interview that the company was comfortable in removing masks on flights since employees were not only tired of wearing them but also that enforcing mask-wearing created challenges for crew members.

Overall, the response to the changes in the mask mandate have been largely positive. After years of strict regulation, people are happy to make informed decisions about their own health. Travelers are comfortable to opt in, or out, of wearing masks and crew are relieved to leave the days of policing mask wearing behind them. The breadth of tools that we have to deal with Covid-19 has grown substantially and with these tools it is now important to get travel back on track, while prioritizing the physical safety of pilots and flight attendants.

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