Masks are now commonplace in most public spaces. But how are airlines handling face masks these days? Basically, every airline has a policy in place requiring some kind of face covering, with few exceptions—and warning that there may be serious consequences for those who refuse to comply, including possibly being banned from future travel with the company.
You probably know by now that masks are a crucial tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in public spaces. The coronavirus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets, which are expelled when people talk, cough, sneeze, and yell. When someone who’s infected with COVID-19 expels those droplets, they may contain viral particles that can go on to infect someone else. Wearing a mask helps prevent those droplets from getting far enough to actually spread the virus.
Masks are most helpful in areas where it’s hard to maintain social distancing, like, say, in the confines of an airplane for hours at a time. So if you’re planning on doing any air traveling in the near future, it pays to be prepared and learn how airlines are approaching face masks—and what they expect from you.
Every Delta passenger who’s at least two years old must wear a face mask throughout their travel experience, including when checking in, in the boarding area, on the jet bridge, and on the plane, except when eating or drinking, according to the airline’s website. Although Delta doesn’t specify exactly what type face coverings are and are not okay, it does say that passengers should wear masks that comply with the CDC’s recommendations.
The airline recommends that those who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask reconsider traveling right now or be prepared to go through what Delta calls its Clearance-to-Fly procedure before their flight. The process involves a consultation with a Delta agent and a third-party medical professional, which can take up to an hour.
Delta appears to be pretty darn strict about these policies. Just this month, for instance, a flight was forced to turn around when two passengers refused to wear masks, SELF reported previously. To date, the airline has banned about 240 people for not wearing masks, CNN reports.
American requires passengers to wear masks except for children younger than two years old. The airline specifies that customers should plan to bring their own face masks and expect to wear them from the moment they arrive at the airport until the moment they leave the airport at their destination, according to its website. However, it’s okay to take the mask off briefly when eating or drinking.
The airline also specifically mentions that, as of August 19, 2020, masks with exhaust valves or vents will no longer be allowed, per the CDC’s recent update to its guidelines. American also warns that, if you refuse to wear a mask, you may be “denied boarding and future travel on American.”
Expect to wear a mask for your entire flight and while in the airport, United says on its website, except for brief moments when you’re eating or drinking. Children who are under the age of two are exempt.
You should plan on bringing your own mask, but if you don’t have one a United agent will provide you with one for free. Specifically, United says “travelers are required to wear a face covering with no vents or openings that fully covers their nose and mouth. A face shield alone does not count as a face covering.”
If you refuse to wear a mask, a United agent will first inform you that for your safety and the safety of those around you, a mask is required. But if you still refuse, you may not be allowed to fly and you could also lose your future travel privileges “on United for a certain period of time that will be determined when we review the incident,” the airline says.
All customers are required to wear a face covering during their entire Southwest travel experience, the airline says. Masks with holes, masks made of lace or mesh, or masks with exhalation valves or vents will not be allowed. Southwest also notes that masks that cannot be secured under the chin—like bandanas—are not sufficient.
But the airline also specifically mentions that neck gaiters, as long as they cover the nose and mouth, are allowed.
“No mask? No travel,” Alaska says. All passengers ages two and older are expected to wear a cloth face mask or covering for the entirety of their flight, including at the airport and while boarding and deplaning. Specifically, masks “must be made from a cloth or other barrier material that prevents the discharge, release, and expulsion of respiratory droplets from a person’s nose or mouth,” which does not include masks with valves or vents.
If you can’t wear a mask that meets these guidelines for that period of time, you won’t be able to fly with Alaska.
The airline also has an innovative policy to deal with those who refuse to wear a mask on board: “Guests who repeatedly remove or refuse to wear a mask or face covering will be given a final warning—in the form of a yellow card,” the airline says. With that, the passenger will no longer be able to travel with Alaska, and any future travel they had planned with the airline will be canceled and refunded, including return or connecting trips.
Frontier’s policy is clear and succinct: Passengers and employees are all required to wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth for the entirety of their travel experience. The only exception is for children under two.
However, bandanas, masks with vents or valves, masks made of mesh, and face shields on their own are not acceptable masks. If you don’t have a mask, Frontier has a handy blog post with instructions to make one at home without any sewing involved.
“This level of protection is important for everyone’s well-being and if you don’t wear an approved face covering, you may lose future travel privileges on Frontier,” the airline says.
If you plan on flying with Spirit, know that the airline requires face masks for everyone except children under two—no exceptions, including medical reasons, the airline says. Spirit specifies that cloth masks must be secure under the chin, cover the nose and mouth, and contain at least two layers of fabric. Masks with vents, bandanas, and face shields are not considered acceptable masks.
“Face coverings must be worn while at the airport, on the jet bridge, and onboard the aircraft,” Spirit says. “Face coverings may be removed only while eating, drinking, or taking medication—when done eating, drinking, or taking medication, face coverings must be repositioned immediately.” Any passengers who don’t comply with these policies could lose their flight privileges with Spirit for the future.