April 18th Update: A federal court in Florida has overturned the Biden Administration “Transportation Mask Mandate” and masks are now optional on US domestic flights and most international flights involving the United States.

Let’s talk about the simple question of when mandatory face masks on flights and in airports will be dropped, and if-it-is to happen — where and how it will be done?

Currently, masks and face coverings are still required on planes and in airports in the US and most of the world.

The Biden Administration had just announced that the previous expiration date of April 18th had been extended by “15 days”, meaning face masks would’ve still been required on planes and in airports until at least May, at the earliest.

The court ruling, and subsequent message from the TSA stating it won’t enforce the mandate ends that all, effective immediately.

Each country has ample chance to set their own policies, but in reality, most were waiting for the United States to make a move. For a recap of why it all got so confusing, here’s a recap of the hurdles governments faced.

Hurdle # 1: Risk Of Confusion

Airlines are an incredibly challenging businesses for many reasons, but one key reason is the international nature of the business.

Crossing borders often means varying rules or restrictions from one place to another — and airlines always need to strictly comply everywhere they go, or risk fines and bans.

A key reason mask mandates took so long to be dropped, particularly in places where health outlooks were extremely positive, was the risk of confusion. However simple you may find mask guidance, people seriously struggle.

If on the same airline you needed to wear a mask to one destination, but not another, there would be ripe confusion not just from passengers, but from crew too. The “do I?” question could create arguments between passengers with different understandings and put crew in even more treacherous positions.

Hurdle #2: Perception And Fear

Airlines received unfair perception during the pandemic about cabin environments and the risks of contracting Covid-19 on planes, versus other indoor spaces.

Despite US Department of Defense studies concluding that air flow on planes makes the cabin environments safer than virtually any other indoor environment, including 15x safer than standard air flow in homes and up to 5x safer than even hospital air filters, people looked at planes as the big problem.

If health situations were to turn for the worse — particularly as cases rise bringing new headlines and fears — airlines and air travel could unfairly bear the brunt of the blame yet again, however unfair it would be. Now, the courts can be blamed, not leaders.

“Caution” was the main message among airline leaders. They let government set the rules, and didn’t publicly campaign too much for change, after being caught out during Omicron. Making the matters even more complicated, cabin crew unions couldn’t quite make up their minds as to their preference.

A chance to reduce service — and therefore workload — was something unions were almost always “for”, and having people masked and seated made those union goals easier in many respects.

Hurdle #3: The US “Sets The Rules”

There’s room for some healthy debate here, but with air travel, the United States is almost a mafia like figure. Not like in an evil way, but a powerful way.

Whatever rules the US sets, such as security protocols or mask mandates, those are largely accepted everywhere, since any airline wishing to do business in the US would be required to uphold those rules on all US flights, or risk losing licensing.

Look no further than post 9/11 security to see the truth in this statement. The US set the protocols, everyone else followed. Security in most of the world follows standards set by the US systems.

Basically, now that the United States has made a move, others should follow.

Smaller regional airlines, such as Jet2 in the UK, have already dropped mask mandates for select flights. But until rules are dropped more broadly, confusion will continue. It’s been an area of great confusion, already.

Mask Are Now Optional In The USA

The US mask mandate requiring face coverings on planes and in airports was extended 15 days, but on the date of its scheduled April 18th, 2022 extension, a judge struck it down and declared the rule unlawful. Masks are now optional on US flights.

Could masks be lifted globally, or at least in by May 15th? That’s my bet. Countries are quickly ditching entry requirements related to Covid-19 and at some point, masks will likely follow.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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23 Comments

  1. There is another factor to consider (again, beyond the politics of an election year). There is now a lawsuit pending from the Texas Attorney General that seeks to overturn this mandate. If there is an extension, I fully expect more red state AGs to join the case. The legal authority for the CDC and DOT to require face masks on airplanes via an emergency order is questionable at best, and its very likely to be be blocked at the district court (and likely the 5th COA) level. These courts have blocked many of the administration’s pandemic orders. Many of these rulings have been upheld by the Supreme Court while others have been overturned. The “uncertainty” aspect will grow exponentially during the time the mandate is blocked by a lower court and the time the Supreme Court ultimately rules on it. Remember, the airlines are free to require masks on their own, but free from the federal mandate it is a near certainty that at least some carriers will allow mask-free travel within the US. This puts them at a huge competitive advantage over carriers that choose to enforce their own requirement. The prospect of suspending the mask requirement and then re-imposing it if/when another court reinstates it would create a lot of chaos, drama, and bad press.

    Simply put, I don’t think there is a great option here for the government. When this was put in place it was supposed to be for 100 days. Since the extensions began, there are no clear off-ramps and we were always going to be in this position sooner or later. With 10 days to go, my money is on an expiration this month….a sort of “rip the bandaid off” approach.

      1. Thank you Gilbert for this insightful article. I have been following the CDC/TSA guidelines with avidity, and share your hopefulness. The 15-day extension suggests to me that this is an attempt to appease the naysayers, as a prelude to lifting the restrictions on May 3rd. I expect mask mandates to be reduced to ‘Recommended’ status. I just hope that ‘Day before’ Lateral flow tests are also canned. Here’s hoping.

  2. Thank you for your analysis-I take it now more than just a grain of salt, it seems to be pretty good! Your initial analysis of all of this Covid and travel back in February 2020 was spot on, and mine was wrong. Cheers

  3. I’ll just put it out there that I am a big believer in public health, non transmission of respiratory diseases and so forth. But I won’t opine on the mask policy here… instead I will express my hopes that the U.S.’s 1-day pre-arrival negative test requirement is rescinded. Not saying that this requirement is _wholly_ without merit, but it is outlandish compared to the rest of the world and a huge cudgel when a small stick would serve better.

    1. There is also a full vaccine mandate for anyone flying to the US who is not a resident in addition to a 24-hour negative test requirement. The vaccine mandate won’t be rescinded until 2025. The test mandate may be relaxed but keep in mind: virtue-signalers don’t like to stop virtue-signalling. Mandates “feel good” and thus might stay a while.

  4. I’ll accept it if they stop parading the hepa filters on the planes. just day they’re not enough and I’ll wear the masks if the government decides the pandemic is still on

  5. They don’t just have to consider airplanes that may be low risk environments, but also airports, which may be among the highest risk environments by virtue of often being very crowded with people from very low to very high transmission countries. The airport environment is more likely to put travelers as well as TSA, ICE and other airline/shop, etc. employees at risk. The risk is compounded by the way airlines squeeze most long haul international arrival and departure times into narrow windows of time, virtually guaranteeing rapid spread of a highly contagious variant by a single traveler, e.g., standing in a long line waiting to go through immigration (notwithstanding pre-flight testing that has been ineffective at stopping spread). Perhaps the answer should be masks in airports where adequate social distancing can’t be maintained, but masks can be removed in planes between takeoff and landing?

  6. Here I am to say “I TOLD YOU SO”!!!
    Didn’t I say, more than a few times, that you will NEVER fly again without a face diaper on your mug?
    One deranged idiot 20 years ago stuffed black powder into his sneakers and we’re still taking off our shoes. It’s been 20 years!!
    If you think April 18 is mask-off day THINK AGAIN. That date is close enough to give you hope but far enough out to allow your will to resist to wane — exactly as intended.
    Mask mandates on planes are going to be forever. Mark my words. You will wear a mask when you fly for the rest of your life, or you won’t fly.

    1. In the Nordics, there’s no longer a mask mandate on planes, and now airports are dropping them as well. So mark MY words: You’re wrong.

  7. Keep voting in control-freak leftists and keep being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, when you can and cannot stop doing it, and how much more tax you’ll to pay because you did it.
    This from people who have never done it in their lives too.

  8. I don’t agree that the US sets the rules globally. Mask mandates are disappearing fast in Europe, and European airlines are proving capable of enforcing masks where required and not where not required. Europe to USA is a huge market, certainly, but intra Europe and Europe to ROW are also huge markets. The USA is becoming an outlier already on masks. Incidentally, they don’t set the rules on security either, but they do set minimum standards as we all do. You don’t need to take shoes off in Europe, and that’s acceptable for flights to the USA – and it’s reciprocated as, if you are TSA Pre-Check, you don’t bother about liquid bans, and that’s acceptable in Europe.

    The real big difference is that tourism from abroad is relatively small in the USA so it can get away with pandering to domestic prejudices more than most European countries.

  9. It benefits the fake president’s administration to keep the fear narrative going ,the masks do absolutely nothing except help those who hate freedom control those who want to feel like Americans once again

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