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Uncertainty and confusion: Airline mask rules end like they began

April 19, 2022
3 min read
Uncertainty and confusion: Airline mask rules end like they began
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It ended like it began: with chaos, confusion and uncertainty.

Airline mask rules came to an unceremonious end Monday, falling away with a whimper after a federal judge blocked the mandate and the White House stepped back to evaluate the situation.

In the immediate aftermath, it was unclear what that meant for each individual airline. But the ambiguity wasn't long-lived. Airline industry CEOs had already been outspoken about their desire for the mask mandate to end, so — once they saw the apparent opening — they seemed eager to take it. The dominoes began falling, with one airline after another saying they would no longer enforce a mask mandate that had been widely in place for nearly two years.

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On Monday, news of the struck-down mandate began to leak, first on breaking news updates and then on social media. Flights took off under one set of rules, only to have pilots make mid-air announcements, some quite celebratory in nature, that the mask mandate was over.

Social media posts proliferated, showing passengers cheer as pilots or flight attendants announced that masks were now optional.

On some flights, then came flight attendants who headed down the aisle to do a special trash collection for passengers who wished to discard their now-optional face masks.

What had been a part of airline announcements, rules and procedures for months only took hours to disassemble.

By the end of the day, no mask mandates were left standing at any large U.S. carrier. The rules fell away one by one, dropping in the absence of clear direction from Washington.

Many who took to social media to mark the occasion created posts that welcomed the change.

Some, however, expressed dismay of the sudden and unexpected rollback. The nearly immediate implementation of the change left them on flights they had boarded minutes or hours early when the now-defunct rules had meant their fellow passengers would be masked.

It was back in May 2020, when JetBlue – in the absence of any formal federal rules – instituted its own policy that all passengers must wear masks onboard its flights.

Other carriers soon followed suit, but it put the airlines -- and the inflight crews -- in an uncomfortable position of having to enforce rules that not all passengers were happy about.

A number of airlines and their unions clamored for federal intervention, saying a national travel mandate would help take crews off the frontlines of enforcing each carrier’s individual policy.

However, in contrast to how quickly it was to ultimately depart, such a rule was not quick to arrive.

Finally, in January 2021, the government – following the lead of the newly elected Biden administration – enacted a comprehensive mask mandate. Initially set to expire in May 2021, it was extended multiple times. The most recent extension came quite recently in April 2022, with the government saying it intended to keep the ban in place for a couple more weeks as the latest COVID-19 variant began to build in the U.S.

But that was undone with Monday’s ruling by a federal judge – and then the Transportation Security Administration's subsequent decision to stop enforcing the mandate. And just like that, the rules began to fall away at one carrier after another — just as the way it all began.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases