Mass confusion: Airlines, public transit struggle for clarity after mask ruling

Shifting mask rules cause commuter confusion in New York and New Jersey

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, April 21, 2022
DOJ to appeal order voiding travel mask mandate; What that means for NYC
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The Department of Justice countered a federal judge's order on mask mandates that has caused chaos and confusion, especially in the Tri-State. Jim Dolan has more.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A federal judge's decision to strike down the national mask mandate covering airlines and other public transportation continues to have a ripple effect across the Tri-State area as agencies respond.

The Department of Justice countered on Wednesday by filing an appeal seeking to overturn the judge's order that has caused chaos and confusion, especially in the Tri-State.

The ruling appeared to free operators to make their own decisions about mask requirements, with the several major airlines -- Delta, American, Southwest, JetBlue and United -- all announcing they would make masks optional, but New York City's public transit system is keeping the mandate in place.

MTA communications director Tim Minton said the system was "continuing to follow CDC guidelines and will review the Florida court order."

The MTA operates New York City buses and subway trains as well as two commuter rail lines, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North.

Face coverings have been mandatory on all trains and buses since early in the pandemic.

New Jersey Transit, however, announced it is no longer requiring masks, although people may opt to wear them based on personal preference. Amtrak also said that passengers and employees will no longer be required to mask while on board trains or in stations.

"Masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19," the agency said.

The greatest confusion comes at New York's three major airports. They're owned by the Port Authority, which answers to New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. The problem is, on the topic of masks -- they disagree.

"We do a lot together with New York, but we almost always take the lead from the feds," Murphy said.

Hochul said the state's remaining mask rules will remain in effect statewide, at least "in the short term."

"Case numbers are rising," she said. "That's very apparent to all of us, and it's something we have to be cognizant of when we make our decision."

Airports and transportation providers statewide that lifted their mask requirements in alignment with TSA and federal guidance may have to reinstitute mask requirements to not be in violation of the state.

The mandate remains in place for buses and bus stations, trains and train stations, subways and subway stations and airports in New York, Hochul said.

Suffolk County Transit buses and paratransit vehicles told riders Tuesday they were no longer enforcing the mandate, though they reversed course Wednesday to once again require masks. The NICE Bus system in Nassau is also requiring masking based on state health department guidance.

Long Island MacArthur Airport has now clarified that "masks be worn in areas controlled by the airport, specifically, baggage claim and ticketing areas."

They also apologized to commuters for telling them they no longer had to wear masks, in alignment with TSA policy.

"The airport will support the state's regulations," the statement read. "We apologize to the traveling public for any inconvenience or confusion."

To narrow down the confusion, here's the latest list of transportation agencies in the Tri-State and where they stand in regards to Monday's ruling:


"The mask requirement on public transit in NY remains in effect for now pursuant to a March 2, 2022 determination by the New York State Department of Health," MTA Communications Director Tim Minton said regarding masks on public transit.

Port Authority

New York rules remain in effect on PATH trains and New York City airports but are lifted at New Jersey airports.

"The Port Authority will continue to follow the guidance of the New York and New Jersey public health authorities with respect to mask mandates at its public transportation facilities," the agency said.

Per current New York public health guidance, the mask mandate remains in effect for the following New York facilities:

--Port Authority Midtown Bus Terminal

--George Washington Bridge Bus Station

--World Trade Center Oculus Transportation Hub

--LaGuardia Airport

--JFK International Airport

--New York Stewart International Airport

Per newly issued New Jersey public health guidance, the mask mandate has been lifted for the following New Jersey facilities, but masks are now optional and welcome for all who choose to wear them:

--Newark Liberty International Airport

--Teterboro Airport

The mask mandate remains in effect for the interstate PATH System (including stations and platforms with the exception of open-air platforms)."

Westchester County Airport

Masks are essentially now optional in the public/common use areas of the Westchester County Airport, as the airport complies with the "security directives" set by the federal Transportation Security Administration. The TSA on Monday lifted the mask mandate nationally following the court decision, so the County Airport management followed suit Tuesday to comply with the guidance from TSA. Airlines will continue to set the rules for their planes, though it appears most are going with the optional use policy.


"While Amtrak passengers and employees are no longer required to wear masks while on board trains or in stations, masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19. Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so."

NJ Transit

"Masks will no longer be required on @NJTRANSIT & by South Jersey Transportation Authority. Individuals may wear a mask based on personal preference, informed by personal level of risk."

List of national airlines and where they stand:


"Effective immediately, 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 protects the wearer, even if others around them are not wearing masks."

Alaska Airlines

"Due to a judicial decision in our federal court system, the mask mandate has been overturned, which means our guests and employees have the option to wear a mask while traveling in the U.S. and at work."

Note: Guests must continue to wear masks on flights both to and from Canada.

United Airlines

"Effective immediately, masks are no longer required at United on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country's mask requirements) or at U.S. airports."

United Airlines told ABC News that it will allow some passengers it previously banned for mask violations to fly on United flights now that the mandate is over.

American Airlines

"In accordance with the Transportation Security Administration no longer enforcing the federal face mask mandate, face masks will no longer be required for our customers and team members at U.S. airports and on domestic flights. Please note face masks may still be required based on local ordinances, or when traveling to/from certain international locations based on country requirements."

Southwest Airlines

"Effectively immediately, Southwest Employees and Customers will be able to choose whether they would like to wear a mask, and we encourage individuals to make the best decision to support their personal wellbeing."


"In line with Monday's federal court ruling and the TSA's guidance, mask wearing will now be optional on JetBlue within the U.S. While no longer required, customers and crewmembers may continue wearing masks in our terminals and on board our aircraft."

Spirit Airlines

"Face coverings are now optional for Spirit Team Members & Guests onboard our flights following the federal court ruling and TSA guidance. We understand some Guests may want to continue wearing face coverings on flights, and that's perfectly fine under our optional policy. For our Guests traveling internationally, please remember to check country-specific airport requirements before traveling."

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