DeSantis: Florida suing Biden administration over federal mask mandate on planes, public transportation

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is once again taking on the Biden administration over the federal government's coronavirus restrictions.

DeSantis and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced Tuesday that the state would be filing a lawsuit along with 20 other states against the federal government over the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's mask mandate on airplanes and public transportation.

DeSantis and Moody argued that the CDC's mandate exceeds the agency's authority and interferes with state laws banning forced masking.

"If politicians and celebrities can attend the Super Bowl unmasked, every U.S. citizen should have the right to fly unmasked," DeSantis said. "It is well past time to get rid of this unnecessary mandate and get back to normal life."

Moody, joined by attorneys general from 20 other states, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Tampa. Joining Florida in the complaint are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Read the full lawsuit below (mobile users, click here to read):

The lawsuit comes days after the CEOs of Delta, American and United Airlines issued a joint letter to President Joe Biden last week, urging him to lift mask rules on flights. They wrote, "It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do."

RELATED: Airline CEOs, travel groups urge White House to lift mask rules on flights

The CDC's mask mandate had been scheduled to expire on March 18, but the Transportation Security Administration extended the requirement through April 18, saying the extra month would give the CDC time to develop new, more targeted policies that will consider the number of cases of COVID-19 along with the risk of new variants.

The TSA enforces the mask rule, which extends to planes, buses, trains and transit hubs.

Critics have questioned why the CDC would allow maskless people to gather in movie theaters and sports arenas but not on planes.

"It has caused so much confusion, so much chaos, and so much pressure on the employees," Moody said. "As you know, the airlines themselves have demanded that the administration take a look at that and consider what they are forcing them to do."

But on its website, the CDC pointed to travelers being unable to distance themselves from other people to prevent spread of the virus.

"Traveling on public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by bringing people in close contact with others, often for prolonged periods, and exposing them to frequently touched surfaces," the website said. "Air travel often requires spending time in security lines and busy airport terminals."

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that her agency must study the science around virus transmission "but also the epidemiology and the frequency that we may encounter a variant of concern or a variant of interest in our travel corridors."

RELATED: Florida Department of Health says healthy children should not get COVID vaccine, opposing CDC recommendation

The federal mask mandate was imposed in January 2021, days after President Joe Biden took office, and has been extended several times. The Trump administration had declined to require masks on public transportation, but airlines began requiring them in mid-2020 to reassure passengers worried about contracting the virus.

The requirement became a lightning rod for confrontation between some passengers and airline crews. Since the start of 2021, airlines have reported more than 6,000 incidents of unruly passengers, most of them involving disputes over mask wearing. That history could make it unlikely for airlines to require masks once the federal rule lapses.

In September, the Transportation Security Administration doubled the fines for people who refused to wear masks on public transportation to $500 to $1,000 for first-time offenders and up to $3,000 for repeat violations.

The Associated Press and News Service of Florida contributed to this report.