ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A federal judge’s decision to strike down a national mask mandate was met with cheers on some airplanes but also concern about whether it’s really time to end one of the most visible vestiges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The major airlines and many of the busiest airports rushed to drop their requirements on Monday after the Transportation Security Administration announced it wouldn’t enforce a January 2021 security directive that applied to airplanes, airports, taxis and other mass transit.

But the ruling still gave those entities the option to keep their mask rules in place, resulting in directives that could vary from city to city.

Passengers on an United Airlines flight from Houston to New York, for instance, could ditch their masks at their departing airport and on the plane, but have to put them back on once they land at Kennedy Airport or take a subway.

A video showed some passengers on a Delta Air Lines flight cheering and applauding as they took off their masks upon hearing an announcement that they were now optional. One man could bee seen happily twirling his mask on his finger.

In a 59-page lawsuit ruling, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped its authority in issuing the original health order on which the TSA directive was based. She also said the order was fatally flawed because the CDC didn’t follow proper rulemaking procedures.

Mizelle, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said the only remedy was to throw out the mandate for the entire country because it would be impossible to end it only for the people who objected in the lawsuit.

The White House said the mask order “is not in effect at this time” and called the court decision disappointing.

The Justice Department declined to comment on whether it would seek an emergency stay to block the judge’s order. The CDC also declined to comment.

United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines all quickly announced they were yanking the mask requirement for domestic and some international flights. So did American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways.



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