United, American, Southwest, Delta, Alaska and other airlines late Monday said they were dropping their face mask requirement effective immediately given a federal judge’s ruling in Florida and the White House response to it.
The mask mandate, announced in January 2021, had been set to expire Monday. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that it would keep it in place until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus that is responsible for the majority of cases in the country.
It was the mask mandate’s fifth extension despite repeated requests from airlines and other travel industry officials to ease restrictions.
The court ruling moved up the timeline, barring any appeals, so passengers boarding flights late Monday are doing so without masks for the first time in nearly two years. Airlines began requiring masks before the government did, with JetBlue Airways the first carrier to announce the move.
The airline’s policy was quickly matched by other carriers.