‘I just like being able to breathe’: Phoenix travelers react to halt of travel mask mandate

Some travelers choose to wear masks while in line Tuesday at a security checkpoint at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

Jamie Schaller, traveling to San Diego from Phoenix, checks in Tuesday at the Southwest Airlines counter. (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

Travelers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport pick up their bags on Tuesday, a day after a federal judge in Florida halted the Biden administration’s mask mandate for transportation. (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

Jason and Taylor Robinson pass time on their phones before boarding a flight at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

Signs at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport offer COVID-19 testing. (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

Frank Monahan of Arizona was happy to have the choice to wear a mask at airports. “I’m wearing mine still, but that is personal preference. I’m trying to be as careful as I can,” he says. (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

Most travelers and employees at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Tuesday were without masks. (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Many employees and passengers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were happy Tuesday to regain a sense of normalcy and exercise their own choice on wearing masks.

The day before, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Florida struck down the Biden administration’s COVID-19 mask mandate for airplanes and public transportation. The White House may appeal the court ruling, according to Reuters.

“In accordance with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) no longer enforcing the federal mask mandate, face masks will no longer be required for employees and customers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport,” airport spokesperson Gregory Roybal said in a statement.

Roybal said the airport will continue providing masks in vending machines and free masks at information counters.

“I’m glad it has been lifted,” traveler Frank Monahan said Tuesday as he entered a Sky Harbor TSA security checkpoint wearing a mask. “Obviously, I’m wearing mine still, but that is personal preference. I’m trying to be as careful as I can, but I look forward to taking it off whenever I feel like it, especially aboard the airplane.”

Titus James, who’s in charge of keeping Terminal 4 clean, is happy to see the ruling. “When you say ‘Good morning’ to someone and they smile, it kind of helps your day.” (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

Steve Dausch, who has volunteered at Sky Harbor for six years, estimated that about a third of passengers traveling through the airport Tuesday were not aware the federal mask mandate, which was enacted in January 2021, had been halted. The mandate was extended five times, according to USA TODAY; the latest extension was set to expire May 3.

Anthony Garcia, who was flying home to Hawaii from Phoenix, said he liked not having to mask up.

“I just like being able to breathe again, with the mask it was so hard for me to breathe,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend wearing a mask on public transportation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Monday briefing. U.S. COVID-19 cases have dropped precipitously over the past few months; however, the CDC is studying an uptick in cases attributed to the omicron BA.2 subvariant.

“It feels better in the airport because you get to see peoples’ faces. … Everyone is hiding behind the mask, and you don’t see them smiling,” said Titus James of Flagship Airport Services Inc., who’s in charge of keeping Terminal 4 clean. “When you say ‘Good morning’ to someone and they smile, it kind of helps your day.”

At Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, spokesperson Ryan Smith said in a statement that masks still are recommended within the terminal but not required.

(Video by Raven Payne/Cronkite News)
Monserrat Apud de la Fuente Mon-seh-rat Ah-pud deh lah Fu- en- teh
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Monse Apud expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Apud, who has interned as a photojournalist at The Arizona Republic and Phoenix Magazine, also was an international radio correspondent for La Cadena Raza. She is working for the Phoenix news bureau and Cronkite Noticias.

Raven Payne Rey-ven Peyn (she/her)
News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Raven Payne expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Payne, who has written for the Phoenix Business Journal, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

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