KLM to stop requiring face masks on flights to the U.S.

KLM will no longer require passengers to wear face masks on flights bound for the United States, a spokesperson for the Dutch airline confirmed to NL Times on Tuesday. The decision was made after a federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump struck down the American rule requiring masks on various forms of transportation, including passenger airlines.

“The legislation of the destination country is leading. If it is no longer obligated to wear a face mask in the United States, this is also the fact for a flight to the United States,” the spokesperson said in a statement. The Amstelveen-based airline still “strongly recommends” that passengers wear a mask when in the cabin, which KLM said is in line with guidelines released by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Other major carriers flying between the Netherlands and the U.S. have said they will relax face mask restrictions with immediate effect, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines. Travel operator TUI, which also organizes flights to the United States, has not yet rescinded its own masking rules. “As long as it is legally required in the Netherlands to wear a face mask on the aircraft, it will be mandatory on board of our aircraft,” a TUI spokesperson told NL Times on Tuesday.

European Union authorities still require the use of face masks on flights destined for the region, however KLM, TUI, Corendon and Transavia had already begun to phase out enforcement on many of their flights starting on March 23. That was the date in which the Dutch Cabinet eliminated most existing coronavirus restrictions in the Netherlands. The spokesperson said this was because changing regulations led to an increase in misunderstandings on its aircraft, “and also more serious incidents with ‘unruly’ passengers, which may negatively affect the safety of a flight.”

KLM continued to require masks on flights to and from the United States because of the 14-month-old U.S. regulation. The mandate was struck down by Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Florida. In her ruling on a case filed in Tampa, Mizelle said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not have the authority to effectuate the face mask rule, though the U.S. Supreme Court had previously refused to issue injunctions against the mandate.

The judge also argued that the CDC only had the right to introduce such a mandate if it fits the definition of “sanitation” as outlined in the Public Health Services Act of 1944. “Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” she wrote in her ruling. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”

In response, Jen Psaki, the Press Secretary for President Joe Biden said, “So, this is obviously a disappointing decision.  The CDC continues recommending wearing a mask in public transit.” She added that the judge’s decision would be reviewed, and that it would be up to the Department of Justice to determine if the administration will file an appeal.

Mizelle was appointed to the bench by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, in August 2020. She was later confirmed by a divided U.S. Senate which voted along party lines, with Republicans joining the vote in favor of her appointment. She secured her lifetime position at the age of 33.

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