The federal mask mandate has been extended through January 18, 2022, and it’s quite possible that it will continue to be extended beyond that date. This means travelers 2 years of age and older need to wear a mask whenever inside a U.S. airport or onboard an airplane, regardless of vaccination status. Airlines can issue fines of up to $3,000 and ban non-compliant fliers for life, making it an expensive mistake to refuse to wear one.
While all U.S. airlines and most international airlines require masks to be worn, the type of mask you need to wear may vary depending on which airline you’re flying. Bandanas and scarves are generally not sufficient, but some airlines have more restrictions for cloth face coverings or masks with vents. All airlines indicate that face shields may be worn in addition to a mask, but wearing a face shield is not an alternative to wearing a mask.
When traveling within the U.S., the CDC has issued specific requirements for what constitutes an acceptable mask. Most U.S. airlines simply follow these guidelines and a few have added even more specifics. Here’s a look at the policies for U.S. airlines and a few major international carriers around the world, where you might find stricter mask policies.
Face Mask Requirements for U.S. Airlines
Alaska Airlines allows cloth masks made with two or more layers of breathable fabric. Gaiters are allowed if they have two layers or are folded to make two layers. Masks that do not cover your nose and mouth are not accepted. Likewise, masks cannot have any slits or exhalation valves.
According to Allegiant’s mask policy, neck gaiters are prohibited. Cloth masks are acceptable as long as it fits correctly over your nose and mouth and does not have any exhalation valves.
American lists masks or 2-layered secured cloth as acceptable face coverings in its policy. Unacceptable face coverings include balaclavas, bandanas, gaiters, scarves, ski masks, and face covers with exhaust valves or vents.
Avelo Airlines simply states that face masks should be made of a solid piece of material and fit snugly around the nose and mouth without any gaps.
Breeze Airways has a mask policy that allows masks made of a solid piece of material and neck gaiters as long as they have two layers of fabric, which can be folded to make two layers. Prohibited masks include balaclavas, bandanas, and face covers made with mesh fabric or with exhalation valves.
Delta Air Lines
Delta specifies that the type of mask allowed onboard follows CDC guidance. Permitted masks include disposable surgical or medical masks, cloth masks with tightly woven fabric, valve-free respirator masks (N95 or KN95), fabric masks with a clear plastic window, and gaiters with two layers. Any mask with an exhaust valve is not permitted and, like other airlines, bandanas, scarves, ski masks, and balaclavas are not sufficient.
Frontier states that face coverings must fit snugly over your nose and mouth and must be secured under the chin. Open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing vents are not allowed.
Hawaiian Airlines also states in its mask policy that any mask must meet CDC requirements. Cloth masks should be made with two or more layers of breathable fabric, which do not let light through.
JetBlue requires travelers to wear masks that do not have any vents or exhalation valves. The airline also states that personal face/body tents or pods, personal air purifiers, ozone generators, and masks connected to tubing or battery-operated filters are not allowed.
Southwest basically follows the CDC guidelines to a tee. Masks must completely cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly with ties, ear loops, or elastic bands that go behind the head. Clear masks or cloth masks, medical masks and N95 respirators are allowed, as well as neck gaiters with two layers of fabric. Masks may not have any exhalation valves.
In its face covering policy, Spirit states that masks must have at least two layers of fabric such as disposable non-medical face masks, or multi-layered cloth. Open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings containing valves or mesh material are not appropriate.
Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country’s safety updates state that masks must adhere to CDC requirements. Neck gaiters are allowed as long as there are two layers of fabric or folded to make two layers. Masks made of loosely woven fabric or that have exhalation valves are not accepted.
United says travelers are required to wear a mask with no vents and bandanas are not permitted. Masks must be worn at customer service counters, airport lounges, gates, baggage claim, and on board during the entire flight.
Face Mask Requirements for International Airlines
A few international airlines have more stringent policies regarding the material of your mask that must be followed. While a cloth mask may be sufficient when flying on U.S. and Canadian airlines, if you happen to find yourself flying on one of these international carriers, you’ll need to upgrade your mask before you can fly.
Air France requires flyers to wear a surgical mask or an FFP1, FFP2, or FFP3 type mask without an exhaust valve. Cloth masks are not authorized.
You may find yourself on a connecting flight within Europe operated by Croatia Airlines if you’re flying with Star Alliance to Croatia. Acceptable masks when flying on Croatia Airlines include surgical masks, FFP2, N95, or KN95 masks without a valve. Children under 6 years old do not need to wear a mask.
When flying Finnair, you must have a surgical mask or a valveless FFP2, FFP3, or another valveless mask following the equivalent standards, such as an N95. Masks made of fabric are not accepted. If you’re just flying within Europe, kids under 7 years old don’t need a mask, but all passengers above 2 years old must wear a mask when flying to/from the USA.
Fabric or reusable face masks are not allowed in Chile for domestic flights. You must have a surgical, 3 layers or superior face mask (K95, N95). If you’re connecting in Lima, passengers must wear two face masks at all times. More info can be found on the LATAM website.
Passengers flying Lufthansa must wear either a surgical mask, FFP2, or KN95/N95 mask. Cloth masks are no longer permitted for flights to and from Germany.
Face masks of the FFP2, KN95, or N95 standard, or surgical masks are obligatory when flying Swiss International Air Lines. When flying within Europe, children under 12 years of age do not need to wear a mask, but all passengers over the age of 2 must wear a mask when flying to/from the USA.
Medical Exemptions for Wearing a Face Mask on a Plane
The CDC lists a narrow subset of individuals who may be exempt from wearing a mask for medical reasons. This includes people with certain disabilities or requirements that would not allow them to wear a mask safely. Individuals who want to request an exemption must contact the airline for the procedures to be followed. Some airlines require you to fill out forms and send a physician’s signature up to a week in advance.
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