Americans greeted the lifting of masks on planes, trains, buses, and public transit with a mixture of joy, relief and alarm on Tuesday, marking an abrupt end to a directive that had been widely held in place for nearly two years.
The Transportation Security Administration, airlines, public transit officials and transportation providers began announcing the end of the enforcement mandate after a federal judge ruled against the requirement on Monday. However, some transit agencies, including the MTA in New York, said they would continue to require masks for now.
Some airline passengers received news in airports or in flight, sharing celebratory photos and videos on social media. That elation was accompanied by nervousness and dread from other people who are fearful that the end of the mandate would constantly expose them and their loved ones to the coronavirus as a new variant is driving up case counts around the United States.
On Monday afternoon, Peter Shankman, 49, took a United Airlines flight from Denver to Newark. Soon after boarding, The pilot announced that masks weren’t mandatory, but that those who took them off should be respectful to those who chose to keep them on. Most people around him continue wearing masks, even after that announcement, but only a few put their coverings back on after eating.
“I kept mine on the entire plane,” he said.
Mr. Shankman travels frequently for his job as a corporate keynote speaker and has been finding that since he started wearing a mask, he has been getting sick far less frequently. “I might continue it,” he said, adding, “it’s a little piece of fabric; it is not that inconvenient. “
He is not alone. Support for the mask mandate has been declining, but most Americans still support it, a pair of recent surveys found. At least 60 percent of adults supported the mandate in place, according to a Harris Poll survey conducted earlier this month. The Morning Consult reported this month that a similar share of adults supported its poll, with those traveling over the next few months being most likely to return.
For many flight attendants, the lifting of the mandate was a relief. Flight crews have faced a surge in threats and violence from passengers over the past two years. In many cases, the rage is sparked by complicating the belligerent resistance with the mask mandate, which is enforced by the flight crews on the plane.
“I’ve got nothing but extremely positive feedback,” said John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union, which represents thousands of flight attendants and other airline, railroad, and transit workers. “There was and is a tension in the air.”
David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways who is now a new CEO of Breeze Airways, said he and many of his crew members welcomed the news.
“They don’t like being on airplanes to policemen,” he said. “It’s not something that they signed up for and I think it creates more agitation with customers.”
Unions representing flight attendants and pilots have long called for stronger action to address increased violence, with many welcoming a recent proposed bill that would impose tougher penalties for those convicted of assaulting flight crews and places on those no-fly lists. General Chat Chat Lounge
Jonathan Russell Biehl, a pilot for Delta, was mid-way between Tampa and Minneapolis on Tuesday evening when he received a message that the TSA was no longer enforcing the mask rule.
“I would say this is the day I’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said Mr. Biehl, who was working as a first officer on Tuesday. “It’s not really exciting to be forced to wear a mask against my will.”
A video he shared shows passengers cheering as the captain announced that masks were optional. When he got off the plane in Minneapolis around 8:30 pm, he didn’t wear a mask.