The federal mask mandate ended Monday after a surprise federal court ruling struck it down, giving flyers the go-ahead to ditch their masks for the first time in two years. By Wednesday, it was clear: Most travelers flying this week don't miss them.
Two Thrifty Traveler reporters hit the skies on Wednesday morning for the first time since the mask mandate disappeared and found the vast majority of travelers had decided to shed their masks. While travelers are, of course, free to continue wearing masks out of health and safety concerns – and public health officials recommend it – nearly 75% or more of flyers were maskless at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) airport. On the plane itself, more travelers seemed to keep masks on.
Wondering what you'll find on your first flight since the end of the mask mandate? It'll vary by airport and even by airline. But here's a look at what we're seeing, from the parking ramp to the plane.
In the Terminal
The difference two days can make is stark.
Earlier this week, masking was nearly universal throughout the airport. On Wednesday morning, it seemed that just 20% to 30% or so of travelers at the Minneapolis airport were wearing masks. Signage instructing passengers to wear a mask in line with the federal mandate had come down.
But what about airport employees? From check-in agents to TSA agents at security, virtually every airline and airport worker we've seen has stopped wearing masks – aside from a few CLEAR employees in the security queue helping travelers through the long lines faster.
As we made our way through security and through the airport concourse, we noticed that mask usage dwindled. Maybe some travelers were still unaware the mask mandate had been dropped until after they arrived?
In the Lounge & At Restaurants
Got airport lounge access to relax before your flight? If our experience shows anything, you should expect to see even fewer masks.
Lounges have long been relatively mask-free spaces – even before the mask mandate dropped, most airlines and lounge operators have given travelers free rein to go maskless so long as they were at there seat. But now the masks are really off.
At the MSP Delta Sky Club near the G Gates, just 5% or so of guests were wearing masks.
Over at the MSP Escape Lounge, employees were masked but only a handful of travelers coming in and out were wearing them.
It's only been a few days, but one stronghold of continued masking seems to be at airport dining venues, where most employees we saw were wearing face coverings.
At the Gate
Travelers are clearly making their own individual choices about whether or not to wear a mask ahead of their first mask-optional flights.
Mask usage varied from gate to gate. Ahead of a United flight to Chicago-O'Hare (ORD), just a few passengers had chosen to keep wearing masks. Meanwhile, no United gate agents in sight were wearing masks and all the signage warning about the mask mandate had disappeared.
Before my Delta flight to Baltimore (BWI), Delta monitors clearly spread the news about the change in masking policies.
At my gate and ahead of Thrifty Traveler co-founder Nick's flight to Los Angeles (LAX), no Delta gate agents nearby were wearing masks. But passengers seemed to be far more likely to strap on a mask before getting on the plane: I'd guess nearly 30% or more of travelers milling about the gate were wearing masks – especially older folks and families traveling with children.
On the Plane
You might notice the change right as you step onboard.
On two Delta flights departing Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), no flight attendants were wearing masks. When the mask mandate fell, every major U.S. airline informed employees and passengers alike that masks were officially optional.
But other things hadn't changed: The pre-flight safety video hasn't been updated since Monday's ruling, with everyone in the video still masked. However, there was no mention of masking in any of the inflight announcements – not even to say masks were optional.
Among our fellow travelers, mask usage was markedly higher on the airplane than it was in the airport. We estimate about 30-40% of flyers were wearing masks during our flights – maybe even as high as 50%
Of course, just how common – or uncommon – masking is in-flight will hinge on where you're coming from and going.
While mask requirements have ended within the U.S., you might still be required to wear one depending on where you're flying. Several countries including Canada, France, Germany, and others still have in-flight mask mandates, which means flights between the U.S. and those destinations will still require masking from start to finish.
Public polling published by The Associated Press suggests a majority of Americans support requiring masks on planes and other public transportation. Immunocompromised travelers and families with young children who can't yet get vaccinated might be especially on edge about the mask mandate disappearing.
But just two days after its surprise end, most travelers seemed eager to ditch their masks. Left to choice instead of a requirement, it seems the vast majority of travelers are choosing to leave their masks at home as they make their way through airports – with slightly more flyers putting on a face covering as it's time to get on the plane.