Whether you’re in the US, the UK, or Canada traveling locally or internationally, the COVID-19 Pandemic and associated regulations are some of the critical considerations we now have to take into account when traveling. In the US and in airports such as JFK, LAX, and Atlanta, a face mask is now mandatory when in the airport.
This guide will help you understand what the mandate means, how to comply, and some of the potential consequences if you don’t.
What is the Airport Mask Mandate?
The airport mask mandate was part of control measures put in place as a way to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The regulation required all travelers to wear a face mask when in the airport. The TSA put out the directive following the recommendations of the CDC as part of the rules of traveling following the opening up of air travel after a period of lockdown.
When was the airport mask mandate put in place – start: Jan 2021
On January 29, 2021, CDC released an Order requiring everyone entering the United States and its territories, as well as all passengers and personnel operating conveyances, to wear face masks. Individuals were also required to wear masks when going to transportation hubs (e.g., airports, bus or ferry terminals), including both indoor and outdoor areas, under the Regulation.
CDC Order on Mask Mandate:
The order requires all persons including passengers, crew, and airport operators to ensure that they comply with the order by;
- Boarding only those persons who wear masks;
- Instructing persons that Federal law requires wearing a mask on the conveyance and failure to comply constitutes a violation of Federal law;
- Monitoring persons onboard the conveyance for anyone who is not wearing a mask and seeking compliance from such persons;
- At the earliest opportunity, disembark any person who refuses to comply; and
- Providing persons with prominent and adequate notice to facilitate awareness and compliance of the requirement of this Order to wear a mask; best practices may include, if feasible, advance notifications on digital platforms, such as on apps, websites, or email;
Where the mask mandate applied:
As per the order circular (PDF) by CDC, the requirement to cover mouth and nose using a mask applies in the following 5 situations;
- While eating, drinking, or taking medication, for brief periods;
- While communicating with a person who is hearing impaired when the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication;
- If, on an aircraft, wearing of oxygen masks is needed because of loss of cabin pressure or other event affecting aircraft ventilation;
- If unconscious (for reasons other than sleeping), incapacitated, unable to be awakened, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance;7 or
- When necessary to temporarily remove the mask to verify one’s identity such as during Transportation Security Administration screening or when asked to do so by the ticket or gate agent or any law enforcement official.
Who was exempt from the Mandate?
The following three categories of travelers are exempt from the federal mandate;
- A child under the age of 2 years;
- A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.).
- A person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations
Mask Attributes preferred by CDC in the Mandate:
- A properly worn mask completely covers the nose and mouth.
- Cloth masks should be made with two or more layers of a breathable fabric that is tightly woven (i.e., fabrics that do not let light pass through when held up to a light source).
- Mask should be secured to the head with ties, ear loops, or elastic bands that go behind the head. If gaiters are worn, they should have two layers of fabric or be folded to make two layers.
- Mask should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face.
- Mask should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures.
Additional attributes of acceptable masks;
- Masks can be either manufactured or homemade.
- Masks can be reusable or disposable.
- Masks can have inner filter pockets.
- Clear masks or cloth masks with a clear plastic panel may be used to facilitate communication with people who are hearing impaired or others who need to see a speaker’s mouth to understand speech.
- Medical masks and N-95 respirators fulfill the requirements of the Order.
Airport Mask Mandate Ended:
A federal judge in Florida has declared that the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation is invalid, overturning a rule put in place by U.S. health officials during the coronavirus pandemic.
The U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, a Trump pick, ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s conclusion was “arbitrary” and “capricious,” and that it did not follow proper rulemaking procedures. Read full reporting on the judgment on the PBS website here.
From Google Trends data, the search for airport mask mandate appears to have spiked following the ruling back in April. See the screenshot showing the search for the topic over the last year.
How the ruling was received:
In his ruling, Mizelle said that while controlling the covid epidemic is important, wearing a mask does nothing to cleanse oneself and at most only traps virus droplets. He concluded that it “neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”
According to KNH reporting, this wasn’t the first time during the pandemic that the CDC has had its authority questioned. Last year, the agency took a hit when the Supreme Court ruled that it had overreached by imposing an eviction ban during the pandemic.
What followed the ending of the federal mask mandate:
Within 24 hours after the court’s decision, New York Times reported that all major US airlines, as well as Amtrak, had announced that they would no longer demand masks for passengers or workers.
CDC also released an advisory announcing the end of the mandate but continued its urge recommending that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.
The Justice Department also registered its displeasure with the ruling and noted that it was going to appeal as per its posting on the website as shown in the snapshot below;
Do all airports not require wearing masks?
Masks are currently not required in U.S airports, but there are a few exceptions as per New York Times reporting. The exceptions such as New York’s John F. Kennedy International and La Guardia airports, Philadelphia International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. Requirements could differ from airport to airport, so it’s best to stay updated on the latest changes.
If you are traveling locally, you may want to check your airport’s website or social media pages for the latest information on their policies.
Mask Mandate Internationally:
Masks are required on airplanes departing from or entering certain countries, such as China, Canada, France, and Germany. However, in Mexico and many Caribbean nations, airlines have complete discretion over the matter.
Following the ruling, several international airlines updated their regulations to allow passengers to wear masks on flights to destinations in the United States. They had previously banned many routes to the Caribbean from requiring masks.
Do I need COVID testing to fly to the US?
The CDC order from December 2, 2021, requiring persons aged two and above to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the United States is rescinded effective June 12, 2022 at 12:01 AM ET.
This means that as of 12:01AM ET on June 12th air passengers will not be required to have a negative COVID test or to show proof of vaccination prior to boarding their flight into the USA.
You can get more details and check for any updates on the US State Department website here.
The following CDC advisories are still in place – see the snapshot below;
How about airport taxis and uber – do they require mask wearing?
Masks are no longer required in taxis, and both Uber and Lyft have stopped forcing customers and drivers to wear face coverings throughout the United States. Read more reporting on this by NY Times. However, local rules may override these regulations. In New York City, for example, masks were still necessary for Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis despite the fact that they aren’t required in other parts of the country. This, however, changed this past month in September 2022 when Metropolitan Transport Authority released a press release indicating that it would no longer require face coverings in taxis and for-hire vehicles.
Read the full MTA press release from September 7, 2022 here.
What does the future look like?
It is still too early to tell what the future holds as the pandemic continues to evolve. The CDC is still urging people to take precautions and wear masks in indoor public settings, even though the federal mask mandate has ended. It is important to stay updated on the latest changes and requirements when traveling, both domestically and internationally, as rules and regulations are subject to change.
3 Airports that Require Masks
A website called travelandleisure.com put together a list of airports that still require masks and they are;
- John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
- LaGuardia Airport, New York
- New York Stewart International Airport, New York
30 US Airports Not Requiring Masks
Travelandleisure.com also put together a list of 30 airports that have scrapped the requirement to wear masks and they are;
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Maryland
- Boston Logan International Airport, Massachusetts
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport, North Carolina
- Chicago Midway International Airport, Illinois
- Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Texas
- Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Hawaii
- Denver International Airport, Colorado
- Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Michigan
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Florida
- George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport, Texas
- Harry Reid International Airport, Nevada
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Georgia
- Los Angeles International Airport, California
- Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, Louisiana
- Miami International Airport, Florida
- Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport, Minnesota
- Nashville International Airport, Tennessee
- Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey
- O’Hare International Airport, Illinois
- Orlando International Airport, Florida
- Philadelphia International Airport, Pennsylvania
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Arizona
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Virginia
- Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah
- San Diego International Airport, California
- San Francisco International Airport, California
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Washington
- Tampa International Airport, Florida
- Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Alaska
- Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia
Airlines that still require masks
- Air Canada: Canada’s national carrier still requires face masks for all travelers age six and older.
- Air New Zealand: Effective September 13, masks are no longer required on Air New Zealand flights unless mandated by the destination country.
- Turkish Airlines: Masks are only mandatory if required by the destination country.
FAQs on COVID Prevention and Mask Wearing Mandate
What is a mask?
A mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. Masks are not surgical masks or respirators.
Why do I need to wear a mask?
Masks are effective at capturing droplets, which is a main route of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, and some studies have suggested that masks may also be effective at capturing very small airborne particles, which could also contain the virus.
When should I wear a mask?
The CDC recommends wearing a mask in public settings, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and transportation hubs, where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.
I have a medical condition that prevents me from wearing a mask. What should I do?
The CDC has guidance for people who are unable to wear a mask due to certain medical conditions.
If you have trouble breathing, or if you feel dizzy or nauseous while wearing a mask, please remove the mask and seek medical attention if needed.
Do I need to wear a mask on an airplane?
The TSA does not require passengers to wear masks, but most airlines do have policies in place that require passengers to wear masks during the entire flight, including while boarding and deplaning. Some airlines are also requiring passengers to wear masks in the terminal.
Can I take my mask off to eat or drink?
Yes, but you should only remove your mask when you are eating or drinking and you should put it back on as soon as you are done.
Do I need to wear a mask if I’m outside?
The CDC recommends wearing a mask when you are around people who don’t live in your household and when it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.
Do children need to wear masks?
The CDC recommends that children over the age of 2 years old should wear a mask in public settings. Children under the age of 2 should not wear a mask because they could choke on it.
Can I wear a scarf or bandana instead of a mask?
No, the CDC does not recommend wearing a scarf or bandana because they are not as effective as masks at capturing droplets.
I don’t have a mask. Where can I get one?
You can purchase masks online or at many retail stores. You can also make your own mask using a variety of materials, such as a bandana or coffee filter.
What type of mask should I wear?
The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face mask that covers your nose and mouth. Masks can be made from a variety of materials, such as cotton, silk, or linen. Masks should be washed regularly, and you should have multiple masks so that you can rotate them and allow them to dry completely between uses.
What is the best way to clean my mask?
You should wash your mask regularly, and you should have multiple masks so that you can rotate them and allow them to dry completely between uses. Masks can be washed with soap and water or in the washing machine.
Are there different types of masks?
There are two main types of masks: surgical masks and respirators. Surgical masks are loose-fitting, disposable devices that create a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. Respirators are tight-fitting, disposable devices that create a seal between the wearer’s face and the respirator so that inhaled air is filtered before it reaches the mouth and nose.
Below is an image of N-95 Masks on Amazon selling for $19. They are the best for air travel.
Do I need to wear a mask if I’m vaccinated?
Yes, even if you have been vaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask in public settings and around people who don’t live in your household.
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Name: Alex Mutuma
Profession: A professional travel consultant with a focus on airport activities to do during layovers
Phone: +1 945 348 889
Location: 322 Main Packway Street, Boston, US