Travel | January 18, 2023 2:55 pm

US Government Asks Court to Reverse Mask Mandate Ban on Planes

The original mandate was scrapped in April 2021

Travel suitcase and medical mask
Will mask mandates be coming back soon?
Getty

I’ll never forget the first flight I took following the order to ban mask mandates on transportation. I’d become so accustomed to masking that it wasn’t until four hours into the flight that I first realized that I was one of the only passengers for as far as I could see still wearing one (in my defense, it was a redeye…it was dark, and I was tired). After more than a year of navigating rules and regulations, all of which included masking, it felt almost dystopian to suddenly not be required to. But an April 2021 ruling by a Florida district court judge had declared the government order requiring masks on public transportation and at airports unlawful, and that was that.

Almost a full year later, however, the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to reverse that ban. According to a new report from Reuters, a three-judge panel in an appeals court has heard arguments on the government’s appeal of the ruling. The desire to reverse the ban reportedly comes following the E.U.’s recommendation that passengers flying from China mask up. (For the uninitiated, there were major outbreaks in China following the scrapping of its zero-COVID policy).

“Justice Department lawyer Brian Springer said the CDC could impose mask requirements without giving the public time to comment given the pandemic emergency, arguing it was necessary ‘to prevent the possible infections and deaths that could result if people didn’t do the simple thing of just putting on a mask while they were traveling,’” David Shepardson wrote.

Alternatively, lawyer Brant C. Hadaway argued that it was “[n]ot about an urgent matter of public health,” and that if the CDC thought the the issue was a “matter of life and death,” it would have sought a faster ruling. Of course, it does bear mentioning that there have been 1.11 million COVID-related deaths in the U.S. to date, so it’s not not a life-and-death situation.

The initial mandate was only in place for four months, after the Biden administration implemented it in January 2021, before it was repealed. The CDC had recommended a mask mandate for travel previously, but it was ultimately blocked by the Trump administration.

It’s unclear when it would go into effect or to what extent should the ban be reversed, but it’d behoove anyone with any imminent plans to travel to or from China to wear a mask anyway.