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.

United Airlines announces new PetSafe policies, lists animals no longer allowed for cargo travel

May 3, 2018

by Carla Hay

After facing numerous complaints about how animals are handled during travel, United Airlines has announced changes to its United United PetSafe policies, which cover travel for animals in United airplane cargo areas. Among the new rules are United will no longer animals other than dogs and cats in the cargo areas. The airline is also banning several dog and cat breeds to travel in the cargo areas. Most of these breeds have flat noses and experience breathing difficulties in confined spaces. United is also no longer allowing dogs and cats in the cargo areas for travel to certain cities that are known for extreme heat during certain times of the year.

According to United, exceptions to these new PetSafe policies can be made for members of the military and their spouses, and State Department Foreign Service personnel and their spouses, who wish to travel with or ship their pets out of Guam.

The following rules apply to animals being transported in United’s cargo areas. (Separate rules apply for dogs and cats traveling with passengers in the cabin area.)

Domestic shorthair cat

Effective June 18, 2018:

  • Only dogs and cats will be allowed in the cargo areas. All other animals will not be allowed in the cargo areas.
  • United’s cargo area will no longer allow cats and dogs traveling to and from Australia and India.
  • Beginning June 16, 2018, reservations can be taken for dogs and cats traveling without their owners for flights on or after July 30, 2018.
  • Beginning June 18, 2018, reservations can be taken for dogs and cats traveling on the same flights as their owners for flights on or after July 9, 2018.
  • Crates taller than 30″, including the 700 series crates, will no longer be accepted.
  • Crates will no longer be sold or provided at United airport facilities. All cats and dogs traveling with a PetSafe reservation must have a compliant crate, which may be purchased via united.com/petmate in advance for acclimation and travel.

Between May 1 and September 30, dogs and cats will not be allowed in the cargo areas, due to high temperature restrictions, for travel to and from the following cities:

  • Las Vegas (LAS)
  • Palm Springs (PSP)
  • Phoenix (PHX)
  • Tucson (TUS)

In some cases, dogs and cats will not be allowed in the cargo area for temperature reasons under other circumstances, cities or dates outside of May 1 to September 30. The decision will be made at the discretion of United employees.

The following dog and cat breeds are no longer allowed in United’s cargo areas:

French bulldog

Dog Breeds*

  • Affenpinscher
  • American Bully
  • American Pit Bull Terrier/Pit Bull
  • American Staffordshire Terrier/”Amstaff”
  • Belgian Malinois
  • Boston Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Bulldog
    • American Bulldog
    • English Bulldog
    • French Bulldog
    • Old English Bulldogges
    • Shorty Bulldogs
    • Spanish Alano/Spanish Bulldog/Alano Espanol
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chow Chow
  • English Toy Spaniel/Prince Charles Spaniel
  • Japanese Chin/Japanese Spaniel
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Mastiff
    • American Mastiff
    • Boerboel/South African Mastiff
    • Bullmastiff
    • Ca de Bou/Mallorquin Mastiff
    • Cane Corso/Italian Mastiff
    • Dogo Argentino/Argentinian Mastiff
    • Dogue de Bordeaux/French Mastiff
    • English Mastiff
    • Fila Brasileiro/Brazilian Mastiff/Cao de Fila
    • Indian Mastiff/Alangu
    • Kangal/Turkish Kangal
    • Neapolitan Mastiff/Mastino Napoletano
    • Pakastani Mastiff/Bully Kutta
    • Pyrenean Mastiff
    • Presa Canario/Perro de Presa Canario/Dogo Canario/Canary Mastiff
    • Spanish Mastiff / Mastin Espanol
    • Tibetan Mastiff
    • Tosa/Tosa Ken/Tosa Inu/Japanese Mastiff/Japanese Tosa
  • Pekingese
  • Pug
    • Dutch Pug
    • Japanese Pug
  • Shar-Pei/Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Shih-Tzu
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier/”Staffys”
  • Tibetan Spaniel

Cat Breeds*

  • Burmese
  • Exotic Shorthair
  • Himalayan
  • Persian

* Including mixed breeds

 

United Airlines suspends pet cargo bookings after complaints of pet deaths

March 20, 2018

by Patricia Garrett

United Airlines is suspending its PetSafe reservations of pets for the airplane cargo area until May 1, 2018, as the company undergoes an internal review of  its procedures for pets traveling on United flights. PetSafe reservations that were made before March 20, 2018 will still be honored, but passengers have the right to cancel their PetSafe reservations during this review process. The suspension applies to the cargo area of United flights, not the passenger cabin, where pet reservations will still be taken.

United has not yet announced what it will do about PetSafe cargo reservations after May 1, 2018, presumably because the company is waiting for the results of the internal review before announcing any possible changes to its PetSafe system.

United has come under massive backlash for the death of a 10-month-old French bulldog named Kokito, which died after being placed in a overhead compartment on a  United flight from Houston to New York City that took place on March 12, 2018. The dog’s owners (Catlina Robledo and her 11-year-old daughter Sophia Ceballos) said that a flight attendant forced them to put the dog (which was in a carrier bag) in the overhead bin, even though the owners protested and told the flight attendant numerous times that a dog was in the bag. The owners also claimed that the dog barked several times during the trip, but the flight attended claimed that she was unaware that there was a dog in the bag. United called the incident a “tragic mistake” and issued an apology and a full refund. There have also been numerous protests and calls for boycotting United after this incident happened.

According to the New York Times,  U.S. Senators John Kennedy of Louisiana and Catherine Cortez Masto introduced a bill on March 15, 2018, called WOOFF (Welfare of Our Furry Friends) to prohibit airlines from storing pets in overhead compartments. United Airlines, which already has a policy to prohibit pets from being put in overhead compartments, has said that in April 2018, United will begin issuing brightly colored bag tags to passengers who have pets in the passenger cabin.

The death of Kokito sparked further scrutiny of United’s track record for how pets are treated on its flights, particularly in United’s cargo area, where pet owners are unable to check on the welfare of their pets during the flight. Since Kokito’s death, there have been multiple incidents reported of pets being flown to the wrong destinations on United flights. And according to the Wall Street Journal, 18 pets died while flying in United’s cargo section in 2017, which was twice the number of pet deaths that United reported in 2016. United claims that almost all the deaths were for medical reasons outside the airline’s control. United is the largest carrier of animals among U.S. airlines, accounting for “almost a quarter of the animals transported in cargo holds and in cabins” in 2017, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The backlash against United Airlines over its treatment of pets is the latest public-relations fiasco for the company. In 2017, the United also faced a firestorm of negative publicity for the physical assault of passenger David Dao, who was forcibly removed by security personnel after he refused to voluntarily leave an overbooked flight. Video footage went viral of a bloodied Dao being dragged off the plane during the altercation. United made multiple apologies and reached an out-of-court settlement with Dao for an undisclosed sum.

United Airlines reaches settlement with Dr. David Dao

April 27, 2017

United Airlines

United Airlines has reached an out-of-court settlement with Dr. David Dao, the 69-year-old passenger who was severely injured while being dragged off of a United flight at Chicago’s  O’Hare Airport on April 9, 2017. Terms of the settlement are confidential, according to statements released by both parties. Dao’s injuries included a broken nose, a concussion and two teeth that were knocked out during the altercation.

Videos of the incident that were taken by other passengers went viral, and United faced a public relations nightmare over its treatment of Dao, who apparently sustained most of his injuries when his head hit an armrest. United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz received a firestorm of public criticism for initially blaming Dao in an internal company memo, and there were massive calls for Munoz to be fired and for people to boycott United. After United’s  stock value had a significant decrease two days after the incident, Munoz made several public apologies and said United would take full responsibility for how it mishandled everything. The airline also said it would reimburse all the passengers that were on the flight.

Dao, a Kentucky resident, had been forcibly removed by airport security after he refused to give up his seat and to get re-booked on another flight. United said it randomly chose him and three other paying customers to involuntarily give up their seats for four United employees who had arrived on short notice to the fully booked flight. Before Dao was removed, United had asked for volunteers to give up their seats but had no takers after offering $800 in incentives. The $800 was far below the $1,350 maximum that United was allowed to offer at the time. A video taken by a passenger showed Dao on the phone to United’s customer service saying that he did not want to give up his seat because he had to see patients the next day. Dao also said that if he was forced to leave the plane, he would have to be dragged off, and he would sue if it happened.

After the scandal broke, United changed its policy to offer a maximum of $10,000 to passengers who volunteer to be bumped from overbooked or oversold flights. The airline also announced other policy changes, including no longer calling airport security to remove a paying customer who has already been seated on the plane. After the settlement was reached, United said it would reduce, but not eliminate, overbooking for its flights.

The three airport law enforcement officers who dragged Dao from the plane were employed by the Chicago Department of Aviation and have been placed on leave. The week before the settlement was reached, Munoz announced that no one from United would be fired because of the incident.

Dao’s attorney Thomas Demetrio told the Associated Press, “I praise Mr. Munoz and his people for not trying to throw the city under the bus or pass the buck. He stood in front of the world and has stated that, ‘We, United, take full responsibility.'”

Demetrio added that it was”unheard of” for a company to admit responsibility so quickly and completely. I hope corporate America notices when you goof up, people respect you a heck of a lot more when you admit it, instead of making people go through three years of depositions, motions, court hearings.”

United released a statement saying that all parties have reached “an amicable resolution of the unfortunate incident that occurred aboard Flight 3411.”

United Airlines public relations nightmare: 5 reasons why it won’t really change how airlines and customers treat each other

April 12, 2017

by John Larson

United Airlines

United Airlines has lost millions of dollars and the trust of many of its customers and those who travel because of the way the company handled passenger Dr. David Dao, a 69-year-old Kentucky resident who was forcibly removed by law enforcement when he refused to voluntarily give up his seat on United flight 3411 going from Chicago to Louisville on April 9, 2017.  United had requested that four passengers volunteer to give up their seats after four United employees showed up needing the seats to get to a required destination. After none of the flight’s passengers volunteered to give up their seats with voucher and compensation incentives, Dao was one of four passengers randomly selected to be removed involuntarily.

Videos of the incident that were taken by airline passengers show a screaming Dao being dragged off the plane with his mouth bloodied. He apparently sustained the injuries when his refusal to leave the plane resulted in an aggressive, physical altercation. The three other passengers who were involuntarily removed for the same reason left peacefully. In the end, although Dao was seen running back on the plane, he was not allowed to board the flight.

Countless people have expressed outrage at United and how the incident was handled, and they don’t think it’s enough that United has made multiple apologies and offered ticket reimbursement for all the passengers on the flight. There have been people calling for United CEO Oscar Munoz to be fired, for people to boycott United, and for United to be sued. Three of the law-enforcement employees involved in the altercation have already been suspended. These employees are not police officers but are security personnel employed by the Chicago Department of Aviation who were called in by the United flight crew who said that Dao needed to be removed from the plane.

There has been a lot of analysis about what United and/or Dao should have done to prevent the incident. And it’s opened a floodgate of long-simmering anger that people have toward airlines and the declining quality of customer service while airlines continue to increase their fees. Many people have brought Dao’s race/ethnicity and his criminal record (for illegal prescriptions) into the discussion, but in the end, he represents what can happen to any airline passenger under the same unfortunate circumstances and decisions.

Despite all the damage done, United Airlines will survive this scandal. The short-term effect is that airlines will probably improve procedures on how to handle overbooking, bumped passengers on to other flights, and removing people who refuse to de-board a plane for whatever reason. Some smaller airlines that have better reputations in customer service will probably see an increase in business, but not enough to surpass dominant U.S. airline companies such as United and American. The long-term effect is that the airline business will go on as usual, and here’s why:

1. Everything that United did was legal in most airlines’ customer policies. As has been pointed out in many news reports about the scandal, people who buy airplane tickets agree to the legal terms of service (the fine print on airline tickets that most people don’t read), which includes the disclosure that the flight is never guaranteed as advertised. Delays, cancellations, overbooking and being a passenger who is considered a “flight risk” can all result in a passenger not being allowed to be on that flight as originally scheduled.

2. In a post-9/11 world, airline passengers have to be careful about how their words and actions are perceived by airline employees and other authorities. Passengers involved in altercations on a plane, even verbal altercations, can be labeled a “flight risk” and can be forcibly removed. People who are suspected of being a danger or being a threat to employees and other passengers, even by joking about terrorism, can be forcibly removed. People who are disturbingly intoxicated or need immediate medical attention can be forcibly removed. Passengers are more likely to be blamed if they do not peacefully cooperate with authorities from the airline or airport.

As unfair as it may sound, this is today’s reality of flying on any airline. How the airlines treat customers who become “difficult” is a matter of debate. Most people agree that United should have handled the Dr. Dao situation better, once it became clear how upset he was becoming when he was asked to leave his seat. A smarter and better-trained flight crew would have immediately diffused the situation by upping the incentives for another passenger to calmly leave the plane instead of Dao. But once Dao’s demeanor became highly agitated and uncooperative (which can automatically get a passenger labeled as “belligerent”) and once the altercation became physical, it was unlikely that the authorities were going to let him back on the plane.

Even though Munoz said in an ABC News interview that United will never again call law enforcement on a paying customer who has already boarded a plane, it’s hard to believe that this policy will be permanent in a world where there is terrorism and other crimes committed on airplanes and in airports. Airlines and airports still have to bring in law enforcement to deal with people who are suspected of being a physical danger to passengers and employee. This statement from Munoz appears to be United shifting the blame on airport security instead of taking steps to improve its booking policies to prevent re-accommodated customers from getting upset in the first place.

3. The scandal will not improve overall customer service from airlines. Flights will still be late and overbooked. Perks that used to be included with seating in the coach area (free meals, free blankets and pillows, free movies) are not coming back for almost all airlines. And airline food will never be up to most restaurants’ standards.

4. Despite calls to boycott United, many people who have flown United in the past will still consider booking a United flight sometime in the future if it means it will save them money. United has no doubt permanently lost many customers, but studies have shown that people will overlook bad experiences with an airline if they can save money either on a plane ticket or through rewards/frequent flier programs. Even though many people are sympathetic to Dr. Dao, the harsh reality is that people will still fall back into old habits when it comes to their airline preferences. For most airline customers, it’s not so much a matter of brand loyalty and choosing the most “ethical” airline, but it’s about convenience and getting the best deal. And with airline mergers happening more frequently in the past decade, people’s choices have becoming increasingly limited in which airlines to use. United will still be one of the dominant airline companies, long after this scandal has passed.

5. The scandal will not give passengers an excuse to go against airline rules in order to get their way. People who are foolish enough to think that the Dr. Dao/United Airlines incident now gives them permission to cause disruptions or delay a flight as a protest against an airline’s rules and policies will also find themselves removed from the flight and, in some extreme cases, banned by the airline. The best way that customers can protest against a company is to peacefully take their business elsewhere and let the offending company know it.

April 14, 2017 UPDATE: An attorney representing Dr. Dao held a press conference on April 14 to announce that Dao had two of his teeth knocked out, a broken nose and a concussion as a result of the altercation on United Airlines. The attorney also stated that Dao will probably file a lawsuit.

In addition, as stated previously in this article, the short-term effects have already started to take place.

  • United Airlines has announced that it is now requiring crew members to be booked on a flight at least 60 minutes before the flight’s departure time.
  • American Airlines has changed its booking policy to state that paying passengers cannot be bumped from a flight for re-accommodation purposes once they have been seated on the flight.
  • Delta has increased the monetary amount that it will offer to bumped passengers. Gate employees can now offer up to $2,000 (an increase from the previous maximum of $800), while a supervisor can offer up to $9,900 (an increase from the previous maximum of $1,350).

None of these airlines has pledged to improve customer service in other areas.

April 27, 2017 UPDATE: United Airlines has reached an out-of-court settlement with Dr. Dao. Get more details here.

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