Airline crew and passengers have had to endure thousands of incidents of unruly passenger behavior related to the requirement of face masks, according to Federal Aviation Administration statistics. It appears that's about to end following Monday's ruling by a federal judge, voiding the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation.
The Biden administration said Monday that the rule would not be enforced while federal agencies decide how to respond to the judge’s order. Several airlines immediately followed suit, announcing they would no longer require the masks on domestic flights, but may need to keep enforcing the rule for international travel.
From the start of 2021 through April 12, 2022, the FAA said it has received 7,131 reports of unruly passengers on flights. And while many of those may have included other factors, 5,034 incidents involved passengers arguing about or refusing to comply with the mask rule.
That, plus an increase in cases of violence toward passengers and crew, led the the FAA to enact a zero tolerance policy in January 2021. Warnings were no longer given and the agency became more aggressive in pursuing legal action. Airlines also started banning passengers from future flights.
Eleven airline CEOs recently urged the Biden administration to lift the mandate, citing studies they say show airplane cabins are among "the safest indoor environments."
The mask mandate was set to expire Monday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week it was extending the guidance until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S.
The decision Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said the CDC failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures that left it fatally flawed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.