Delta Air Lines said on Wednesday that it would allow people who were placed on its no-fly list for refusing to wear masks to fly with the company once again. The move was another sign of how significantly airlines’ positions on mask-wearing on planes have shifted since a federal mask mandate was struck down by a judge on Monday.
“With masks now optional, Delta will restore flight privileges for customers on the mask noncompliance no-fly list,” the airline said in a statement. But the reprieve won’t be automatic, it said: It will be granted “only after each case is reviewed and each customer demonstrates an understanding of their expected behavior when flying with us.”
Delta said it would not allow back on flights customers whose infractions were more serious than just refusing to wear a mask.
“Customers who demonstrated egregious behavior and are already on the permanent no-fly list remain barred from flying with Delta,” the airline said.
The company declined to say how many passengers the new policy would apply to.
Though Delta has been among the airlines pushing to remove the mask mandate, it has also been — until now — the airline calling for the strictest penalties for passengers who refuse to comply with rules in the sky. In February, Ed Bastian, the airline’s chief executive, began pushing to create a combined national no-fly list of unruly passengers who disrupted flights on any airline. The effort did not get far, in part because of legal concerns, but it generated debate about the best way to crack down on passengers who were contributing to a surge in terrible in-flight behavior.
As of February, Delta had put nearly 1,900 people on its own no-fly list for refusing to comply with mask requirements. The company had referred more than 900 passengers to the Transportation Security Administration for civil penalties for bad behavior, though it was not clear how many of these incidents involved masks. The Federal Aviation Administration began nearly 1,100 investigations into unruly passengers last year, more than in the previous seven years combined, with many of the incidents involving tensions over masks.
Flight attendants have expressed hope that dropping the mask requirement would improve behavior in the sky. They have also voiced concerns that tensions would grow much worse if the mask mandate were to be reinstated.
There has been one abrupt reversal after another lately over masks. A few days before the federal mandate for public transportation, including air travel, was set to expire, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended it for two more weeks. On Monday, a federal judge in Florida struck it down. Within 24 hours, every major U.S. airline declared that masks were now optional for passengers and employees on domestic flights. Then, on Thursday night, the C.D.C. said masks were still needed and that it would ask the Department of Justice to appeal the judge’s ruling. It’s not yet clear when or how the appeal will play out.