Approximately two months after dropping the indoor mask rule for fully vaccinated guests, Walt Disney World is ending all face mask requirements foreveryone. This post shares details about what led to this decision, and why there were still any face covering requirements prior to this.
This started yesterday when a federal judge in Florida vacated the federal mask mandate for airplanes and other forms of public transportation. The ruling found that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its authority, failed to adequately explain its reasons for the mandate, and did not allow public comment in violation of federal procedures for issuing new rules.
In a 59-page ruling, that Florida judge found that the CDC had exceeded its authority and failed to follow proper rulemaking procedures. In so doing, the CDC violated the Administrative Procedure Act, as the agency failed to prove its decision regarding implementing the mandate. She found a “strong interest” behind the mandate, but “because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in the pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate.”
Shortly thereafter, the Transportation Security Administration announced that it would not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time.
“The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps. In the meantime, today’s court decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time,” according to an administration official. However, the CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks on public transit, the official added.
The administration added that the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department are reviewing the decision to make a determination about litigation. At this point, it is unclear whether the federal government will seek an order halting the ruling and will file an appeal.
Just last week, the CDC extended the transportation mask mandate through May 3, 2022. The purported reason for this extension was allowing officials to take more time to study the BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19. This was the most recent of countless extensions, but was notable in that it only applied for 2 weeks, versus the normal month. That alone suggested that the end of the transportation mask mandate was nearing.
Almost immediately after the TSA revealed that it won’t enforce the Security Directive requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs, U.S. airlines began changing their policies. Employees for most U.S. carriers no longer have to wear masks and won’t have to enforce the rule on passengers. Some airlines also warn that travelers should still bring a mask on their trip, to conform with the rules where they land, particularly for international flights.
In some cases, passengers were advised of this change at the airport or even mid-flight. There are countless videos on social media of cabins breaking into applause and cheers as the majority of passengers and flight attendants remove their masks.
The Orlando International Airport also confirmed that, in light of this TSA announcement, face masks are now optional throughout all airport areas and facilities at MCO.
Before we dig into the changes with each individual airline, here’s the official update from DisneyWorld.com:
“Face coverings are optional for Guests in both outdoor and indoor locations, as well as Disney transportation. It is recommended Guests who are not fully vaccinated continue wearing face coverings in all indoor locations, including indoor attractions and theaters and on enclosed transportation.
Please note, face coverings are not permitted while experiencing water slides or in the water.”
Below is Walt Disney World’s OLD & OUTDATED rule that was in place before today’s change:
The new paragraph replaces that confusing chart of where and when masks are and are not required for fully vaccinated v. unvaccinated guests. (To be clear, this no longer applies–it’s what appeared on the site until earlier this morning.)
While there was never any enforcement of the “rule” for unvaccinated guests, it’s nevertheless interesting that Walt Disney World is officially dropping the distinction and only “recommending” masks for those who aren’t fully vaccinated. This is more or less what has been happening in cities throughout the United States, too.
For those wondering why Walt Disney World and airlines are already dropping their transportation mask rules despite the Justice Department being non-commital on an appeal, our guess is because they’ve received assurances of that not happening. It’s entirely possible that the federal government is fine with the Florida judge’s ruling, as it provides political cover for a decision that was going to be made in two weeks, anyway. Perhaps this will be challenged and mask rules will be reinstated in short order, but we highly doubt it.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of what each major U.S Airline has announced thus far:
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.” the airline wrote in a statement.
“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. “
“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.”
American Airlines – On its health policies page, American essentially reiterated the TSA statement that the mask requirement for travelers and staff at U.S. airports and on domestic flights is now rescinded.
Like other airlines, American said face masks may still be required in some places, based on local ordinances or when traveling to and from international locations.
Delta – In its statement, Delta confirmed that 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.”
“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,” the airline Tweeted, attributing the statement to its company spokesmammal (?) Crockett the Raccoon. (Okay, I might hate flying Frontier, but that’s an undeniably good way to break the news.)
“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 – Face masks are now optional for passengers and crew members on board flights, the airline said.
“We advise travelers to stay informed and follow mask requirements that may remain in effect at their origin or arrival airports,” Hawaiian Tweeted.
JetBlue – “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 crewmembers who are traveling internationally should always have a mask with them in case they continue to be required at their destination.” JetBlue stated.
Spirit – “We understand some Guests may want to continue wearing face coverings on flights, and that’s perfectly fine under our optional policy,” Spirit Tweeted.
Southwest Airlines – Southwest released a statement that, effective immediately, masks are no longer required onboard Southwest Airlines or in most airports but certain cities, states, and countries may still require masks.
“We encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing and to check local airport mask policies when traveling. 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.”
United Airlines – Masks are no longer required on domestic flights and some international flights.
“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,” the company said in a statement.
As a reminder, the highest-risk activity at Walt Disney World since reopening has been dining indoors. That has remained true without regard for any past or present rule changes. The easiest way to reduce your actual risk is by eating outside. See our List of the Best Outdoor Dining at Walt Disney Worldfor recommendations. If you’re comfortable with indoor restaurants, mask rules shouldn’t really change the equation much for you.
For those who are still concerned about face masks, the silver lining is that One-Way Masking Works. High quality masks are now widely available, so your safety is no longer dependent upon what others are doing–your health is in your own hands.
(Here’s one high-quality mask we recommend. We don’t use it anymore, viewing higher quality masks as superfluous for two relatively young and healthy adults who are fully vaccinated and boosted, but they’re a good option if your personal profile or risk tolerances differ from ours.)
Any thoughts on Walt Disney World ending all mask rules? Keep the comments civil, as this is not the place for politically-charged arguing, antagonism, personal attacks, or debating the efficacy of NPIs. We will be heavy-handed in deleting comments that cross the line, even if it’s only a single sentence. You are not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, nor are you going to change Disney’s rules or public policy. If you wish to shout your opinions into the internet abyss, that’s why Facebook was invented.