American Airlines Will Now Allow Passengers To Go Maskless With Doctors Note, Negative Test

American Airlines has updated its mask rules to conform with CDC guidance in accordance with President Biden’s executive order on masks. And the result is mask exemptions, not stricter requirements.

American will ask customers with disabilities who are unable to wear a mask to notify the airline’s Special Assistance team at least 72 hours prior to departure to request an exemption from the requirement. Exemptions will require documentation from a licensed health care provider, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from COVID-19.

When I told you that these federal mask rules would mean less masks, not more masks as I explained they would months ago some of you argued that CDC rules created a floor, not a ceiling, and stricter airline rules would remain in place.

That wasn’t a tenable position because airlines haven’t allowed disability exemptions to mask rules making the argument that doing so would be deleterious to public health. Now the CDC itself says disability exemptions are acceptable. So American is opening up mask exceptions.

  • With a health provider’s note
  • And a negative Covid test

Those are hoops to jump through which will hopefully mean fewer people avail themselves of the exemption. However passengers who don’t want to wear masks can avoid them now. And there will be activists recommending their followers do this.

And with some people now exempt from mask-wearing rules, other passengers will see them and be concerned. The FAA doesn’t allow e-cigarettes to be used on board, fearful that other passengers will think they are real cigarettes and this will lead to confusion, conflict, and create challenges enforcing rules. Allowing some passengers not to wear masks may do the same.

Now, one hopeful bit about American’s change is that Delta has allowed medical exemptions to mask rules by going through a consultive process and while they’ve been aggressive in banning mask resisters from their flights there haven’t been orders of magnitude more conflict on Delta. Hopefully this rules change will just make things more similar to Delta, rather than lead to greater escalation.

American doesn’t state acceptable test types in its release. An antigen test is great for identifying current infectiousness. However a three day old antigen test is almost as useless as a PCR test that takes 3 days to get results. It doesn’t insure a passenger isn’t infectious with Covid-19. Testing should be required day-of. American should accept not just proof of recovery from Covid-19 as an alternative to testing but proof of vaccination as well. While we’re waiting for more data to demonstrate how much vaccination reduces spread we know that it does. If you’re repeating that vaccines do not spread you’re simply misunderstanding.

One positive to this change is that American Airlines will no longer accept neck gaiters or bandanas as masks. Of course they did not need a federal rules change for this.

We need better masks for travel which is why I’ve been highlighting $1 N95 deals as they come along.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This will be a disaster whether it is of AA’s own making or because of inconsistent, constantly moving government regulations.
    Even if flight attendants find out and know who has an exemption from mask wearing, fellow passengers will not.
    The number of passengers that had a legitimate medical exemption that are actually flying is pretty low. The number of people that will meet the requirements for not wearing a mask will be much larger.

    Government involvement will do more to end mask compliance than leaving it to individual airline policies and enforcement.

  2. Sorry, but I’m looking in your 2020 articles and not finding references where you said this would lower the floor. Calling it on 1/30/21 doesn’t count.

    On the links, I’m seeing “CDC suxx” and “government suxx” and “airlines rule” and “Texas counties rule” (I’m paraphrasing), but not this direct forecast.

  3. Not a good move AA.
    Last December, I saw a man at the BA lounge @ LHR with a note around his neck stating “I am not required to wear a mask”.
    Very weird.

  4. This was inevitable. All of you who asked for a mandate, you got one. Happy now?

    Never fear. Just wear 4 masks. Dr Fauci says it’s common sense that 2 masks work better than one. So surely 4 masks would eliminate the threat from people not wearing 1. Maybe we can create some equilibrium? For every anti-masker we can have 2 people wearing 4? So overall there will be more masks on the flight. Minimum 2 masks per passenger aggregate.

    Yes, I’m intentionally mocking the whole thing and being an A-Hole. It bothers me when I see someone not wearing a mask. But I also don’t clutch the pearls and look for the fainting couch. Eventually mask requirements will go away. Too soon for some, not soon enough for others. If you don’t like it, don’t travel. Both sides of the argument!

    PS- Travelled almost every day for the last year and currently in an exec lounge on my 3rd continent of 2021. Started wearing a mask January of 2020. So I can claim moral high ground even if you wish to shame my travels!

  5. Well that’s what happens when the government comes out with a mask directive more lenient than what the industry has already mandated on its own. I remember last week when the CDC came out with this and so many people were praising the order, finally we can travel safely….as if those policies were not in place for the last 6 months through multiple overlapping layers of company, state and local governments and airport authority policies. Way to be late to the party and screw everything up.

  6. Given that masks were required for all, it was virtually impossible for the CDC to require more masks. Under the Air Carriers Access Act, airlines are obligated to accommodate people with disabilities. Further legal analysis is necessary but the CDC order may not change the game as far as people with actual disabilities. The order may give airlines protection from legal liability.

    Those who can establish an exemption from mask wearing under the CDC order are still subject to other restrictions an airline can impose to protect passengers and employees. Those restrictions would depend on the nature of the disability that prevents wearing masks. Face shields might be a reasonable alternative that reduces the risk to others. Airlines and their medical and legal advisors can be creative.

    To the extent there are no reasonable alternatives or airlines don’t pursue them, the new rules may reduce safety. On the other hand, people may be more reluctant to violate rules when the risk is civil or criminal penalties not just being barred form flying a particular airline.

  7. @Andrew how about here

    “Will be weaker than what we have now. A federal mandate would involve lobbying from interest groups and likely water down the mask mandate. Would the strongest mandates even survive? If you think that there shouldn’t be medical exemptions to masks, you shouldn’t favor a federal mandate – be happy that American, United, and Southwest all have this policy already.”

    Isn’t this exactly what happened?

  8. If you have a disability and can’t wear a mask, you shouldn’t be flying during a global pandemic! This is idiotic.

    Wear a mask or drive yourself.

  9. Loooordy people are dumb. This isn’t an AA policy. The dumbass president signed an executive order.

  10. First of all, there is NO legitimate medical exemption for not wearing a mask! My Pulmnologist, Allergist, & Cardiologist all told me they do not write exemptions because COVID is much worse than a little discomfort wearing a mask. Stop being jerks and wear a mask until we’re past this pandemic.

  11. @Andrew – and your point is fair, that I linked to a less than clear discussion and should have gone to the August post to back up my point!

  12. I have spoken with numerous doctors and countless health care professionals and NONE, ZERO, know of any legitimate reason a person would be prevented from wearing a mask, sans using an oxygen tank. This is going to be a real mess.

  13. Absolutely false! Biden enacted the MANDATORY MASK ORDINANCE! Everyone MUST wear a mask while traveling on ANY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION! — Including American Airlines!

  14. Hopefully they are aware of that fact that many will create fake negative test results in order to go maskless. Who wants to actually do this? This puts everyone in jeopardy. If this starts before I use my tickets they can have them.

  15. What fool at american came up with this idea. I guess I’m never going to use them again. Time to cancel my aa credit since I won’t even take a free flight with them

  16. Fake Dr notes Fake test results.
    This is not the way to fly the friendly skies. AA, very disappointed in this decision. Will you take responsibility for super spreading?

  17. Just my 5th reason for never flying again with AA. Gave them up after my flight to Rome thru Philadelphia- what a disaster. My last Oakland flight before that was even worse. Good luck everyone. And wear your masks to save lives.

  18. My brother has developmental disabilities and travels with my mother who has cancer. He cannot wear the mask properly because he’s retarded and doesn’t understand to keep the mask on. My mother can’t travel alone and neither can my brother, nor can they drive overseas to where my mom is getting treatment for her cancer in Europe. My mother can’t afford American medical bills and must travel abroad for her cancer care.

  19. Great news. Finally something logical. Vaccines will do nothing. Soon all will come to know the truth. And maids are no different. Pure emotional comfort rather than hard science.

  20. I I am platinum for life and American Airlines but I’ll be flying Delta as American is publicizing ways for people to cheat around wearing masks and Delta that only requires masks but tries to do social distancing too bad don’t know what to do with all of those American airline miles I have since I’m not flying American again

  21. I don’t care about the masks, but I don’t particularly like the faulty logic behind what you said about e-cigarettes and that they’re supposedly only banned due to the similarity to actual ones. the fact of the matter is that the effects of e-cigarettes inhaled second hand has almost no serious studies or confirmed information, and it’s a disgusting cloud of whatever exhaled in a cramped area with many other people. the similarity to a normal cigarette is only a small fraction of the very good reasons why such things are and should remain banned. it’s no different than someone spraying an aerosol can of hair spray around in a plane. forget for a second that you can’t bring aerosols aboard, even with that would you really be comfortable with someone spraying it all over your face while they style their hair? it’s safe. but somehow I doubt you want that.

  22. Did the government put in place an attestation requirement for claiming an exemption to the mask-wearing requirement? If it hasn’t put in place such an attestation requirement, it should do so … with the same kind of threat of legal punishment for fraud that is applicable to the testing requirement attestation to fly to the US.

  23. There are wacky Drs who will write these notes. What about Trump’s Dr Bornstein (“healthiest individual ever elected”), his COVID advisor Dr.Atlas, and of course Dr Stella Immanuel (hydroxychloroquine lover).

    Gary- there are some confusing statements and missing words in your post above. Please take a look.

    Also, important to point out that having had COVID does not mean you cannot be reinfected or spread COVID to others. Having been infected previously is irrelevant- if it there was any actual data supporting protective antibodies, previously infected individuals would not be vaccinated alongside non-previously infected individuals on priority lists, as per WHO and CDC guidelines. There is limited supply and clearly those who already had COVID would be given later priority. Please do not create misunderstandings yourself. This is incorrect in the medical and science communities.

  24. Beginning Feb. 2, 2021, American will ask customers with disabilities who are unable to wear a mask to notify the airline’s Special Assistance team at least 72 hours prior to departure to request an exemption from the requirement. Exemptions will require documentation from a licensed health care provider, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from COVID-19.

    Straight from the American website. Read it 4 times and the 72 hour request and the 3 day covid test requirement still not making sense.


    So, now, are they going to be checking everyone’s mask at the gate to make sure its 3 layers?

  25. I will not be flying AA until after my second injection. I should also have the right to not sit next to a maskless person.

  26. AA flights are already back to capacity, thanks but no thanks.

    We will never get through this pandemic with all the exceptions!

    You can’t wear a mask, find other means of travel “at your expense’!

  27. I just don’t get it. So many people have died of this terrible disease. Allowing people not to wear masks in such enclosed space is ridiculous. I live on an island where everyone wears a mask, everyone. We had zero cases until two dummies went to Las Vegas and brought covid-19 back here. So far we are extremely lucky we now have had 24 cases. The reason, everyone wears masks here. I would not board a plane with a no mask rule.

  28. PTSD is a legitimate reason. Kidnap victim who cannot have anything over his mouth or head since it creates a trigger. Has to travel for business, NOT PLEASURE. He’s more at risk for not wearing a mask, so all you crybabies can stuff a sock in it.

  29. You all know that MASK will not prevent you from getting Covid, right? The Covid vaccine will NOT prevent you from getting covid, it only lessons the symptoms.. AA is doing what it needs to do, so if you’re that scared and worried about maskless passengers, you are the ONES that should NOT be flying. Get over yourselves, I’m so tired of this B… Crap. Life goes on, fly where you want to, live your lives. Oh and if you’re overweight, drinking alcohol and eat processed foods, you should be more concerned about your own long term health condition, than Covid right now. Seriously, you just can’t fix stupid anymore!!!

  30. This is amazing. My mother can’t fly because she has a medical condition that I’m not going to get into here. She has had the vaccine, so what is the problem? She has a note from a Doctor and she can finally fly. The haters on here are….
    Just evil

  31. So just to be clear, if you have a negative covid test and a Doctor’s note you should be allowed to fly without a mask…PERIOD

    end of story

  32. If you are so afraid of getting sick….STAY HOME!!! Masks should not be mandated on the population to appease the few.

  33. Educated people know that masks offer virtually no protection (unless your immediate neighbor coughs in your face).
    Might as well carry a cross to chase the devil.
    Faith is not science.
    No need to be totalitarian.
    Let the smart ones go maskless.

  34. only sheep would argue about fortifying the walls of their prison to keep them “safe.” you guys will be the first led to the slaughter. perhaps consider waking up and thinking for yourself soon.

    limiting your oxygen causes cells to turn cancerous. this is why even a DOG would resist such treatment. keep it up and you definitely won’t need to worry about a “virus” for too much longer.

  35. What is a mask supposed to do in a pressurized cabin where air is recirculated?

    Is this a serious article?

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