Airports, Maui Bus, major airlines end mask mandate

Ruling by federal judge in Florida strikes down rules, which were set to end May 3

Masked travelers walk through the departures area at Kahului Airport on April 5. Masks will no longer be required at state airports, the Maui Bus and other public transit after a federal judge in Florida struck down the mandate on Monday. Many major airlines, including Hawaiian and Southwest, also announced Monday that they would be making masks optional for passengers and employees following the ruling. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Mask requirements have been lifted at Hawaii state airports, the Maui Bus and other public transportation after a federal judge in Florida struck down the mandate in one of the last sectors to still require it.

“Effective immediately, no mask-wearing on airplanes or in airports will be required,” Marvin Moniz, state Department of Transportation Maui District Airports manager, told The Maui News on Monday. “With that directive going away, things will be back to normal. However, if airlines decide to keep that for their own company, that’s their option. Although from what we’re hearing, there’s very few, if any airlines, that will make it mandatory.”

Weeks after Hawaii ended most of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including the indoor mask mandate, the requirement for face coverings stayed in place for mass transit, per federal rules. It was set to end on Monday, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently extended the mandate until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant.

However, the decision in the Florida court to throw out the mask mandate on public transportation brought the rules to a halt on Monday, triggering changes across the country.

In Maui County, masks will no longer be required on the Maui Bus.

“TSA notified Maui County that due to today’s court ruling the CDC order requiring masks on public transportation is no longer in effect,” county spokesman Brian Perry said Monday afternoon.

Across Hawaii, the state Department of Transportation said Monday that wearing masks on airport property would no longer be required.

Hawaiian Airlines confirmed that “effective immediately, face masks are optional for our guests and employees onboard Hawaiian Airlines flights.”

Southwest Airlines, its interisland competitor, announced that employees and customers “will be able to choose whether they would like to wear a mask on flights, at domestic airports and at some international locations.”

Delta Airlines, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines and other carriers also followed suit with similar policies making masks optional.

Based on conversations with the general managers of airlines operating out of Maui, Moniz said “they all seem like they going leave it up to the passenger.”

Mask mandates on public transit and other venues have been a source of contention throughout the pandemic; in September, a Hawaiian Airlines flight had to divert back to Honolulu after a confrontation over the masking rules.

Moniz said airport staff were constantly reminding people to mask up, with passengers sometimes confused about when they could remove their masks after disembarking and taking their luggage to the curb. After nearly two years of ever-changing travel rules, he’s used to shifting gears.

“We’ll take it, we’ll run with it and we’ll see where it gets us,” he said. “People can feel free to call us if they need any more clarifications. I know it’s causing a lot of confusion — somebody called it ‘the newest confusion.’ We still get people calling us every day asking about Safe Travels, ‘do I have to take a test before I come?’ “

Hawaii ended its Safe Travels program on March 25 for domestic travelers but continues to require vaccination or pre-travel testing for international passengers.

Moniz said if COVID-19 cases go up again, he expects mask rules for public transportation will be revisited. For now, he’s encouraged by the low hospitalizations and death tolls.

As of Wednesday, Maui County was averaging 14 new cases a day, the second lowest among the four counties, according to the state Department of Health, which now releases data on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, Maui Health reported five patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday morning.

Monday’s ruling in the Florida court came in response to a lawsuit filed by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund last year. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa said the only remedy was to vacate the rule entirely across the country because it would be impossible to end it for the limited group of people who objected in the lawsuit, the Associated Press reported.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.


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