U.S. airlines lift COVID-19 pandemic mask mandates for domestic travel: Complete list of current rules

April 19, 2022

by Frances Peterson

An airport traveler during the COVID-19 mask mandates (Photo by Anna Shvets)

This article will be updated with any breaking news.

As of April 18, 2022, all major U.S. airlines are no longer requiring face masks for passengers and employees on domestic flights (within the United States). This mask mandate had been set to expire on April 18, 2022. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wanted to keep the airline mask mandate in place until May 3, 2022, to further study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of COVID-19. The move come after U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, Florida, ruled that the federal mask mandate exceeded the authority of the CDC, and the Joe Biden administration agreed with the ruling. Late in the day on April 18, 2022, U.S. airlines began announcing that their mask requirements were now lifted.

Because of the COVD-19 pandemic, U.S. airlines began requiring face masks for all passengers and employees in May 2020. (People were allowed not to wear masks while eating and drinking.) The mask requirement became a federal mandate in January 2021, and it affected U.S. airlines that are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration. The airlines had been pushing for a lift of mask requirements due to a reported massive increase in physical altercations, harassment and verbal abuse that airline employees experienced from passengers who do not want to wear face masks. Even though the mask mandate has been lifted, airline passengers and employees have the option to war face masks if they choose to do so.

It’s important to remember that the liftings of mask restrictions listed above apply to U.S.-based airlines for flights traveling within the United States. Airlines based outside the U.S. and airplane flights outside the U.S. might have different policies. In addition, policies for wearing masks might vary for international airports outside of the United States. If you are traveling outside the U.S., find out the mask policies for the airline and airport before you go to the airport.

Here statements from each of the major U.S.-based airlines, as of April 19, 2022:

ALASKA AIRLINES

Face masks have been like boarding passes for nearly two years — you couldn’t fly without one. But, as of today, masks are optional in airports and onboard aircraft, effective immediately. 

Due to a judicial decision in our federal court system, the mask mandate has been overturned, which means our guests and employees have the option to wear a mask while traveling in the U.S. and at work.

Note: Guests must continue to wear masks on flights both to and from Canada. Masks must still be worn in airports within Canada and Mexico.

Safety is always our highest priority, so while we love to see your smiling faces in the airport and on board, we respect your decision to keep using this added layer of protection. Above all, we hope you’ll treat each other with kindness and respect throughout the travel journey and beyond. 

It has been a long 24 months with nearly constant change. I could not be prouder of our frontline employees who have handled every pivot focusing on safety and the care we’re known for,” said Max Tidwell, VP of safety & security at Alaska Airlines. “We’re also thankful for our guests who remained considerate, patient and stood by us throughout every twist and turn.” 

Even as more pandemic protocols and policies ease, our team will remain vigilant and prepared for whatever may come next. Safety remains our top priority. And while we sincerely hope most of these challenges are in our rear-view mirror, we are confident we will be ready to respond if faced with another COVID wave or even a new virus. 

What happens to guests who were banned because of not following our previous mask policy? Throughout the last two years, we have relied on reporting from agents and flight attendants to ban noncompliant guests from traveling while the federal mask policy remained in effect. Based on our reports, we will have some guests whose behavior was particularly egregious who will remain banned, even after the mask policy is rescinded.  

As always, we will continue to hold safety as our highest value. Thank you again to our loyal guests and team of 22,000 people who came together over the last two years to do the right thing and take care of one another. We’ve proven we can do anything together.  

AMERICAN AIRLINES

American Airlines has prioritized the health and safety of its team members and customers throughout the pandemic and has supported the federal government’s measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. In accordance with the Transportation Security Administration no longer enforcing the federal face mask mandate, face masks will no longer be required for our customers and team members at U.S. airports and on domestic flights. Please note face masks may still be required based on local ordinances, or when traveling to/from certain international locations based on country requirements. In keeping with our commitment to creating a welcoming environment for everyone who travels with us, customers and team members may choose to continue to wear masks at their own discretion. We are deeply grateful to our team members for their enforcement of the mandate, and will share more information about this transition in the coming days.

BREEZE AIRWAYS

Facemasks are no longer required on Breeze flights for both Guests and Team Members.
Please be kind and respectful of individual choices, and remember that wearing a mask while flying on Breeze is still an option.

DELTA AIRLINES

Following the ruling of a U.S. district court judge on Monday, the Biden administration announced that the Transportation Security Administration will no longer enforce the federal mandate requiring masks in all U.S. airports and on board aircraft. 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 employees and customers may continue wearing masks if they so choose. Wearing a well-fitting mask –  such as a KN95 – protects the wearer, even if others around them are not wearing masks, according to our Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting.

Given the unexpected nature of this announcement, please be aware that customers, airline employees and federal agency employees, such as TSA, may be receiving this information at different times. 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. Communications to customers and in-airport signage and announcements will be updated to share that masking is now optional – this may take a short period of time.

Local mask mandates in other countries may still be in effect. Additional updates will be provided as new information becomes available.

We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus – with better treatments, vaccines and other scientific measures to prevent serious illness. Thank you for your support in complying with the federal mask mandate and keeping each other safe during the pandemic.

FRONTIER AIRLINES

To mask or not to mask, the choice is yours. Masks are now optional on domestic flights, however, certain airports or countries may still require masks, so check the policy at your destination prior to departure and we’ll see you in the sky.

HAWAIIAN AIRLINES

In alignment with TSA’s Security Directive, face masks are optional for our guests and employees onboard Hawaiian Airlines flights. We advise travelers to stay informed and follow mask requirements that may remain in effect at their origin or arrival airports. Guests who wish to continue wearing face masks are welcome to do so. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we update our communications and announcements to reflect this change.

JETBLUE AIRWAYS

In line with Monday’s federal court ruling and the Transportation Security Administration’s guidance, mask wearing will now be optional on JetBlue. While no longer required, customers and crewmembers are welcome to continue wearing masks in our terminals and on board our aircraft.

Regardless of the U.S. rule change, customers and crew members who are traveling internationally should always have a mask with them in case they continue to be required at their destination. 

We are working to proactively share this update with our customers and crewmembers, so please be patient as we update our communications.   

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES

On Monday, a federal judge issued a decision stating the federal mask mandate for public transportation, including on airlines and at airports, is no longer in effect. Thereafter, the White House announced the masking order is not in effect, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not enforce the federal mask mandate at this time.

As a result of this development, effective immediately, Southwest Employees and Customers will be able to choose whether they would like to wear a mask on flights, at domestic ​airports, and at some international locations. We encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing. Additionally, Southwest will continue supporting the comfort of those who travel with us by offering additional layers of protection, including sophisticated cabin air ventilation systems onboard our aircraft which incorporate HEPA air filtration that removes at least 99.97% of airborne particles.

We appreciate the cooperation and compliance efforts of our Customers and Employees as policies have evolved. We’ll continue to monitor public health guidance, and federal requirements, while always keeping safety as our uncompromising priority. 

For additional information, we also invite you to contact Airlines for America, our trade association, for an industry perspective on this development.

SPIRIT AIRLINES

 Face masks are now optional for Spirit Team Members and Guests onboard our flights following the federal court ruling and TSA guidance.

We understand some Guests may want to continue wearing face coverings on flights, and that’s perfectly fine under our optional policy. For our Guests traveling internationally, please remember to check country-specific airport requirements before traveling.

SUN COUNTRY AIRLINES

Thank you Sun Country guests for your patience and for masking up. Effective immediately, wearing a mask on Sun Country flights is optional for our passengers and employees. We look forward to seeing your smiles on board and encourage kindness and respect for those who continue to mask.

UNITED AIRLINES

Masks are no longer required on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country’s requirements) or at U.S. airports. More comfortable keeping yours on? Go right ahead… the choice is yours.

While this means that our employees are no longer required to wear a mask—and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public—they will be able to wear masks if they choose to do so, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transit. We will continue to closely monitor the situation in the event of changes.

Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines announce merger

February 7, 2022

(Image courtesy of Spirit Airlines)

The following are excerpts from a Spirit Airlines press release:

Today we announced that Spirit and Frontier have signed a definitive merger agreement under which we plan to combine to bring more ultra-low fares to more travelers in more destinations across the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. We are excited about this combination and believe it will have tremendous benefits for consumers, Team Members, and shareholders.

COVID-19
Since its initial onset in early 2020, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved and continues to be fluid. Therefore, the Company’s financial and operational outlook remains subject to change. The Company continues to monitor the impact of the pandemic on its operations and financial condition, and to adjust its mitigation and operational strategies accordingly. Spirit has implemented measures for the safety of its Guests and Team Members as well as to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on its financial position and operations. Please see the Company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the period ending December 31, 2021 for additional disclosures regarding these measures.

The Company believes that providing analysis of financial and operational performance compared to fourth quarter 2019 is a more relevant measure of performance due to the severe impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic on our financial results and operational performance for 2020.

Fourth Quarter 2021 Results
Adjusted EBITDA for the fourth quarter 2021 was $14.9 million. The Company had an unusual number of operational disruptions and flight cancellations during the peak December 2021 holiday period, due to staffing shortages as a result of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. The irregular operations during the peak December 2021 holiday period negatively impacted fourth quarter 2021 Adjusted EBITDA by approximately $30 million, primarily due to additional passenger re-accommodation expenses and higher labor expenses, partially offset by lower fuel expense and landing fees. Despite this impact, Adjusted EBITDA margin for the fourth quarter 2021 was 1.5 percent, better than the Company’s initial expectations of flat to negative 5 percent. 

Forward Looking Guidance
Given the merger transaction announced today, the Company is not providing guidance at this time.

Full Year 2021 Highlights

Our People

  • In 2021, Spirit maintained its focus on building an engaged workforce, while navigating COVID-19’s impact on its Team Members and a tightening labor market. The Company grew its workforce to 10,287 Team Members to support its growing organization, had the honor to be named as one of FORTUNE’s Most Admired Companies, and received Glassdoor’s OpenCompany designation, which recognizes employers that proactively promote and embrace workplace transparency
  • Spirit launched a comprehensive Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Belonging strategy in 2021, to drive meaningful change within the organization and the communities it serves. This includes employee resource groups (ERGs) organized by Team Members in order to ensure they all have a voice in paving our path; providing education to increase awareness of systemic inequities and to reduce bias; and a new Supplier Diversity program around a network of minority-owned business partners and diverse suppliers

Recognitions and Accomplishments

  • Spirit was one of only three U.S. airlines listed on FORTUNE’s 2021 list of World’s Most Admired® Companies
  • Spirit was awarded Platinum status by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Health Safety initiative powered by SimpliFlying for the airline’s efforts in ensuring the highest standards of cleanliness and sanitization. The rating was the highest of any low-fare carrier in the world, and the certification recognizes Spirit for going above and beyond the required and truly investing in health and safety for Guests and Team Members
  • Spirit was recognized by Forbes as one of America’s best companies for diversity, equity and inclusion. Forbes’ fourth annual list of America’s Best Employers For Diversity ranks the 500 employers that boast the most diverse boards and executive ranks, as well as the most proactive diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • Spirit received two prestigious awards for its Self-Bag Drop and Biometric technology: The Company was a Gold Stevie winner from the Transportation category of the American Business Awards® program, and was named Best Airport Innovation in the APEX/IFSA Awards
  • For the fourth year in a row, Spirit has achieved the FAA’s highest award for Technical Training, the Diamond Award of Excellence. This award is only achieved if 100% of technicians receive the FAA’s Aircraft Maintenance Technician (“AMT”) Certificate of Training.

Supporting our Communities

  • Spirit is committed to inspiring positive change in the communities it serves, supporting local nonprofit organizations throughout its network via in-kind donations and Team Member volunteerism
  • Alongside the Company’s efforts, the Spirit Airlines Charitable Foundation invested over $500,000 in non-profit organizations that have meaningful social impact on the lives of children and families, service members and the environment

Environmental, Social, Governance

  • Spirit issued its inaugural 2020 Sustainability Report, showcasing results of the airline’s longstanding commitment to meaningful advancements in environmental sustainability, Guest and community service, Team Member support, and governance. Despite the global impact of COVID-19, Spirit remained dedicated to integrating environmental, social, and governance (“ESG”) practices into its business. The report highlights Spirit’s plans for continued progress in broadening ESG initiatives and improving communities and society at large. The Company’s 2020 Sustainability report is available at ir.spirit.com

Guest Experience and Loyalty

  • Spirit launched a new Free Spirit® loyalty program in 2021—which offers the fastest way to earn rewards and status—alongside the new Spirit Saver$ Club®. Spirit also unveiled a pair of new credit cards with benefits that make every aspect of the new Free Spirit fly faster and further. The new Free Spirit is built around points because rewards will be based on dollars spent instead of miles flown. Members can earn points on every booking, every bag and every Big Front Seat®—plus all kinds of purchases on the new Free Spirit credit cards
  • Spirit continued its progress on Wi-Fi antennae installations with more than 100 aircraft completed in 2021. As of year-end, the Company was conducting initial Wi-Fi testing on a limited number of planes. Guests onboard these flights were able to access the Wi-Fi service at a reduced rate during this temporary trial period.
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