Masks on Airplanes: The Essential Guide

by Sarah Peterson

Wearing face masks has become a normal part of our day-to-day lives and a requirement in most public places ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Besides hospitals, there is perhaps no place that enforces the mask requirement as strictly as airports and airplanes. This along with other COVID protocols have now become a standard part of travel, and for good reason.

Wearing a mask and taking simple but effective measures not only protects us while traveling, and also lets the travel industry continue operating. 

But sometimes it seems like airlines, airports, and the CDC change the requirements without notice. This may be confusing when trying to navigate current mask rules and the best ways to keep safe while flying. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! 

In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know about wearing a mask on airplanes, and tips and tricks on getting the most out of your travel experience while masked-up.

Check Out: What to Expect When Flying During COVID-19

Article Guide

Masks on Airplanes

Why We Wear Masks on Airplanes

Wearing masks on airplanes is not only required by essentially every airline right now, but also a requirement to enter almost all airports. 

For example, in the United States, wearing a mask on the airplane is not an option, but a federal law. If unfollowed, it can result in a $35,000 fine for the traveler, or being removed from the flight altogether.

The purpose of masks on airplanes is to protect ourselves and those around us. According to the CDC, air travel has a high risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 because you are seated in a closed space, within close range to many other people, for long periods of time. 

The CDC recommends that everyone wear a mask when in any closed public spaces, which definitely includes airplanes and airports.

Check Out: America's Healthiest Airports of 2021

How Masks Protect You When You Travel

Recent studies show that wearing masks is effective in keeping us safe from catching and spreading viruses. 

In fact, some studies showed that even some flights with active COVID-19 positive cases onboard resulted in no transmission to other passengers when everyone wore their masks.

A mask basically works by filtering some of the particles the wearer breathes in and out. It also prevents bigger particles, such as from sneezing or coughing, from reaching your nose and mouth. This helps prevent people from spreading any viral particles, and reduces the chance of passengers breathing it in. 

If you’re still wondering if masks are enough to make air travel safe, rest assured. Airplanes also have excellent air filtration systems, which remove airborne particles from the air every six minutes or so.

So if all passengers wear masks the entire flight, with only small breaks to eat and drink, the risk of spreading or catching any airborne virus is low.

How to Pick the Right Mask 

Masks on Airplanes

Before you fly, you’ll want to take some time to consider which masks are best for your trip. Here’s how to pick the best mask for you.

#1. Skip the Homemade Cloth Masks

When traveling, opt not to rely on traveling with a cloth or homemade mask. 

Not all airlines will accept passengers with a cloth mask. So instead of risk not being allowed to board, plan to wear a standard surgical mask or N95 mask.

While these aren’t as comfortable as the soft fabric of a cloth mask, they’re safer and accepted more widely. 

#2. Make Sure it Fits Snuggly

A mask is only effective if it fits properly. 

Even though it may feel more comfortable to wear a loose mask, make sure you choose one that fits snuggly. This means that the lining should be touching your face when worn without any huge gaps or pockets of air. 

This gives the wearer more protection from potentially breathing in viral particles.

#3. Make Sure it’s the Right Size

Make sure your mask covers all appropriate parts of your face. It should cover your nostrils, cheeks, and fit securely below your chin, without leaving red marks when you remove it. 

Do read the mask labels before buying and make sure you aren’t buying children’s sized masks. 

#4. Masks for People With Glasses

If you wear glasses, you may experience the dreaded glasses fog that happens when you breathe with a mask on. 

Avoid this by choosing a mask that fits securely, with little gaps coming from the upper lining when worn. 

Choose a mask with a wired upper lining so you can adjust it to contour your face. Also, go for masks that have adjustable ear loops to tighten as needed.

#5. Choose Ones With Side Straps 

Some masks have straps that go around the back of the head. Instead, choose masks that have two side straps that loop behind the ear. 

These are usually easier to put on and take off. They are also easier to adjust.

#6. Face Shields Are Not Necessary

Face shields cannot be used in place of masks. 

It’s totally possible to be safe in-flight with just a surgical grade mask, as long as you don’t touch your face or eyes. If you do still want to wear a face shield, just know that it does not replace a mask. You are still required to wear a mask underneath.

Tips for Using Masks on Airplanes

Masks on Airplanes

So now you’ve picked the perfect mask for your flight and are ready for take off! Here are some tips to maximize your in-flight experience with a mask on.

Check Out: Tips for Long Flights: Your A-Z Survival Guide

#1. Use Only New Masks

Only use an unused mask when flying. 

Used masks will already be contaminated with bacteria and will be less useful for protection. 

The bacteria build-up also increases the chances of your skin breaking out, which is already a increased risk when you travel due to dry air and other travel health impacts. 

Read More: What Happens to Your Body When You Fly

#2. Skip the Make-up

Since you’ll likely be wearing the mask in-flight for a long period, consider skipping your concealer or foundation on your travel day. 

Makeup may clog your pores during the flight, which will be made worse by the warm moisture trapped under your mask. This is a recipe for new pimples when landing. 

#3. Cleanse and Moisturize Before Wearing the Mask

The warm and moist air trapped under the mask can be harmful to the skin and promote bad bacteria, which will congest your pores. 

Plus, the recirculated air in airplanes is very drying for skin. 

Protect your skin by cleansing your face well, then applying a non-greasy moisturizer before heading to the airport.

#4. Only Take it Off to Eat or Drink

For masks to work and keep the wearer and other passengers as safe as possible, everyone should keep the mask on during the entire flight. 

You can take the mask off to drink or eat, but keep it on when possible.

#5. Keep it Clean 

Keep the mask clean when you take it off. You can do this by keeping it in a plastic sleeve while eating, or if you choose to keep it around your neck, make sure you don’t get food or water on it.

You should also sanitize your hands before adjusting or handling your mask. This will lower the chance of you getting any bacteria from your hands onto the mask.

#6. Pack Extras in Your Carry-on

Things happen; you may drop your mask on the floor or get it dirty while in flight. 

Make sure you have extra unused masks somewhere easily accessible while you’re in the air. I keep a few in my purse for easy access.

Keeping Up With Airline Mask Policies

Masks on Airplanes

Some airlines accept cloth masks, while others don’t. Some require young children to wear masks, while others may have a different rule. 

It’s key to keep up with current airline policies regarding COVID-19 including mask protocols, since they change all the time. You’ll want to look out for any email alerts from the airline for any changes in their regulations before your flight.

Many airlines have their own apps, and it would be wise to download them once you book your flight. This is where they usually let you know of any up-to-date information specific to your flight, so you’ll know of any changes in mask or safety rules.

Lastly, you can check for airline specific policies on their official website, or by calling the airline customer service directly. Remember that each airline has their own rules, so you need to be sure of the current policies of each airline you’ll fly with. 

Traveling right now does have its unique rules that take adjusting to, but with a little research and preparation, it’s easy enough to navigate safely. Happy travels!

Check Out: The Frequent Flyer's Guide to Traveling With Vitamins

Sarah Peterson
Sarah Peterson

Sarah Peterson is the co-founder and head of marketing at FLIGHTFŪD. She's a travel health expert and after having visited 20+ countries as a digital nomad and flying every 4-6 weeks for business, she became passionate about empowering others to protect their bodies on the go.

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