Brainerd airport staff, passengers react to end of mask mandate
Some travelers at the airport Friday, April 22, said they were excited not to have to wear a mask while flying.
BRAINERD — A federal face covering mandate for airports and planes is no longer in effect, and some staff and travelers at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport are excited about the change.
“It’s very encouraging to hear that passengers and airport visitors can come mask-free now,” said Airport Director Steve Wright, who noted Transportation Security Administration agents at the Brainerd airport will no longer enforce mask wearing.
Delta Airlines, which serves the airport, no longer requires them either.
A U.S. District Court judge struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s federal face covering mandate for airplanes and other forms of public transportation.
While the ruling has been met with a wide variety of feelings, including an appeal from the U.S. Justice Department, no masks were in sight at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport early Friday afternoon, April 22.
For Pine River passenger Kade Schneider, who was setting off for a Coast Guard assignment in Tampa, Florida, Friday, the lifting of the mandate was good news and meant he would hopefully have a restful flight for the first time in a while, after flying a handful of times while the mandate was in place.
“I’m really glad. I should be able to sleep now,” Schneider said. “... It was definitely a pain trying to breathe, especially while asleep. So yeah, it’s going to be way more comfortable now.”
Another traveler — who wished not to be identified while heading out of town on vacation — had similar feelings as a frequent traveler for both business and pleasure.
“It feels like it’s long overdue,” she said. “.. We’re doing a lot of traveling to the Bahamas in the next couple days, so we’ll have a lot of air time.”
John Janbor, a customer service agent with Delta Airlines working in Brainerd Friday, said passengers on his flight to the U.S. from Amsterdam the day before celebrated the news.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Janbor said. “I think that people are ready to unmask and get on with their lives, unless they’re having health issues, and then that’s a different story.”
Delta employees and customers may continue wearing a mask if they choose, according to the company’s website, which also offers advice from Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting, who said wearing a well-fitting mask — such as a KN95 — protects the wearer, even if others around them are not wearing masks.
“They have it in their announcements, ‘Have a mask with you,’ or ‘Feel free to wear a mask,’” Delta customer service agent Karla Moriarty said Friday. “... We do offer masks to people just in case they go to another destination and they don’t have a mask with them but there are different requirements.”
While the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport — from which Brainerd flights arrive and depart — no longer require face coverings either, places like Los Angeles County reinstated the mandate for public transit and airports.
Though an appeal process to the ruling overturning the mandate has begun and masks could again be required, Wright and other airport staff said the requirement did not present major challenges in Brainerd.
“We haven’t had any of the big national issues that have occurred throughout the system. We’re finding Brainerd lakes region residents, visitors have been very courteous through this whole experience,” Wright said. “And also, we’re finding that people are coming back to the Brainerd airport, or flying through the Brainerd airport kind of for that social distancing mentality. We had less passengers going through our security line than the larger airports.”
Janbor said staff will take the issue day-by-day if there are any changes, but for the most part travelers he has seen have been pretty compliant.
In 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration recorded 5,981 unruly passenger reports with 4,290 of those incidents listed as mask-related. In 2021, the FAA proposed $5 million in fines against unruly passengers.