I'm travelling recently for the first time in a while. I understand the scope of the mask orders: in the airports and on the planes.

What confuses me is what authority ordered it and where does that authority come from?

Different people, signs at the airports, and websites are calling it all of the following, among a variety of less common combinations and apparent synonyms:

  1. Federal mandate
  2. Federal regulation
  3. Federal law
  4. Presidential order
  5. TSA regulation
  6. TSA rules

Additionally, they all mention fines and even imprisonment for non-compliance.

I'm especially confused how all American airports (not planes while in the air) are not subject to their local state jurisdiction instead.

And what would be the technically correct name for the order?

  • Airports are subject to both federal and state jurisdiction (local jurisdiction, where it exists, derives from state authority that is delegated to the local municipality or other political subdivision of the state). The federal government gets to regulate passenger behavior in airports because of the interstate commerce clause, but local law also applies.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 13:26

1 Answer 1


There is a line in airports between the secure zone and the public zone. TSA has broad authority over the secure zone (a post 9-11 fact), and has mandated wearing a mask in its zones of authority. Because federal law supercedes state law, TSA rules override what the state or city may say. This is in fact an implementation of an executive order by Biden. Outside the secure zone, there is a CDC order requiring masks "at transportation hubs". Again, since airports are part of the interstate transport system and the federal government regulates anything that is interstate, the federal rules override any local rules.

These things are "orders". Mandate is a popular term. A regulation is a rule constructed by an executive agency to implement some act of Congress. The act of Congress is popularly how people see "the law", though the details of implementation as specified in a rule (regulation) are also "law" at least in the view of legal scholars. Typically, POTUS gives a general order which results in some action by a federal agency, which may in turn issue its own orders.

  • 1
    So for terms, "regulation" is not correct either way, and neither is "law"? That can't be right, from how I understand where these authorities come from. But "order" and "mandate" are?
    – user608
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 3:16
  • 1
    To clarify, the masks in the secure zone and on planes is the TSA, via the president's executive order. And outside the secure zone is the CDC (a regulation?), applying to "transportation hubs". I's this right? If yes, does the CDC authority stop at "transportation hubs" for some reason, or could they broaden the scope? Seems they would if they could...
    – user608
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 3:20
  • 1
    @608 congress has granted authority to the president or to various executive officers to implement measures to protect public health, to regulate and protect interstate and international commerce, and so on. This executive order does not seem to cite statutory or regulatory authority explicitly (as some do), but if you look for it you'll find it. The first place to look would be in the statutes and regulations concerning the named executive agencies, including the CDC and the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 13:39

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