Mask mandates on airlines and other transportation have dropped nationwide after a judge struck down the federal mask mandate on Monday—even though most polling taken before the order was overturned suggests a majority of Americans likely wanted the measures to stay in place.
Morning Consult polling conducted in March similarly found 60% wanted travel brands to require customers to wear masks, while 80% wanted them to mandate masks for employees.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in March was more split, with 51% saying they wanted the federal mask mandate to expire in mid-April and 49% wanting it to stay in place.
Only 48% of Americans said they were comfortable flying on an airplane even with the mask mandate in place, according to a Morning Consult poll from April 10, and a Harris poll conducted April 8-10 found only 35% of respondents would be comfortable flying on a plane that day given the Covid-19 pandemic.
Morning Consult found just 55% were comfortable taking a train and 46% taking a bus—which were also covered under the federal mask mandate—and only 33% of Harris poll respondents felt comfortable taking public transportation in general.
Morning Consult found in March that 48% of respondents are less willing to travel domestically because of their “concern about others’ behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic,” 43% are less likely to travel because of concerns about their health and safety and 46% because of fears about their loved ones’ health and safety.
What We Don’t Know
What effect the mask mandate’s repeal will have as Covid-19 cases rise in light of the highly transmissible omicron BA.2 subvariant, which could spread more freely on transportation now without masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had initially extended the mask mandate by two weeks in order to see how Covid-19 metrics fared in light of the variant’s spread, which is causing cases to go up in areas like Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The polling showing most favored the mask mandate comes in spite of anecdotal reports of airline customers cheering and immediately removing their masks upon learning of the requirement being dropped.
A federal judge in Florida, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, declared the CDC’s mask mandate unlawful and threw out the order Monday, ruling the CDC had overstepped its authority by imposing the mask order and declaring it “arbitrary and capricious.” The ruling came days after the CDC had extended the order until May 3, but as opposition from lawmakers and travel companies to it remaining in place had been mounting. Twenty-one GOP-led states sued the Biden administration in an effort to block the mandate, and airline CEOs called for the order to expire in an open letter. As a result, most transportation companies were quick to announce masks would no longer be required once the ruling came out, including major airlines, Amtrak and Uber.