For the first time in the last two years, the federal mask mandate has been lifted. You can fly on an airplane without a mask at all. What does this mean for travelers in terms of safety in the skies? We cover everything you need to know.
Do any airlines still require masks to fly?
All domestic U.S. airlines issued statements declaring masks are now optional for all passengers and employees. Those airlines traveling to international destinations qualified the new policy – as some international destinations do still require masks. Most of the U.S. air carriers also urged passengers to exercise patience over the next days, as the new policies underwent implementation at airports around the country.
Many travelers reported masks became scarce as soon as the announcement was made – with many TSA agents and flight crews choosing to remove them. Others report that there are still a good number of travelers and air crews choosing to mask up.
As we move from mandated masking to personal choice on airplanes and public transportation, we expect to see mask usage wax and wane with the numbers of reported cases in the news. When people feel they need extra protection, we’ll likely see more travelers wearing masks in the airport and on airplanes.
What protects me now if masks are no longer required?
Concerned travelers should take comfort in knowing that airplanes have sophisticated air filtration systems comparable to those in hospitals. This means that you’re protected from stale cabin air. These HEPA air filtration systems extract more than 99% of viruses – even those as small as 0.01 micrometers – so they can filter out coronaviruses specifically, which range from 0.08 to 0.16 micrometers in size. New air is pushed through the cabin every 2-3 minutes to keep you safe.
Modifications to airline on-board service continue (for the moment)
Covid-19 pushed the airlines to adopt more limited service levels in the name of public safety. Jetblue, for example, discontinued its popular “basket” of snacks – a practice where you would grab snacks from a communal basket that made its way around the plane.
Most airlines also scaled back regular beverage and meal service. At the height of the pandemic, you couldn’t order any alcoholic drinks on most of the commercial air carriers. While many airlines have now lifted the most restrictive meal and drink service modifications, some of the policies that prioritize social distancing and low or no-contact service will remain.
It isn’t only the airlines that know this is better public health policy. Going forward, we expect to continue to see the airlines and many other businesses promote no-contact service.
Can I still wear my mask on a plane if it feels more comfortable for me?
Of course! You should wear your mask wherever you think you need one. The CDC continues to highly recommend masking in crowded public spaces. We believe masks will remain the norm for many Americans – the lifting of the mandate basically shifts the responsibility back onto the individual to decide where and when he or she wants to wear one.
Can I ask my airplane seat mate to put a mask on if I see them coughing?
Well, you can but its no longer going to be something the airlines will enforce. If you feel uncomfortable sitting next to someone who seems unwell, you can always ask to be seated in a different part of the plane.
Can I get a refund from my airline if I don’t want to fly now that the mask mandate is no longer in place?
That’s a great question. The airlines have mostly all implemented very flexible change and cancellation policies – a Covid-era sea change. If you’re uncomfortable flying now that the mask mandate has been lifted, please reach out to the airline or online travel agency that you booked with and see if they can refund your ticket. It’s worth a shot!
We know that people will likely have many more questions about the specifics of these policy changes. If you have any questions or concerns, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. Happy travels!