The Next Evolution In Airline Mask Policy

There are subtleties in airline mask policies, but largely there’s been a six-part progression has gone like this.

  1. Customers are required to wear masks, but we’re really just asking
  2. We’re going to enforce it
  3. We’re defining what a mask is
  4. There are no more medical exceptions (or a medical exception needs to be signed off on by an airline-contracted doctor)
  5. Children 2 years old and older have to wear them too
  6. We’re defining ‘what constitutes a mask’

It wasn’t enough just to ask customers to wear masks. Part of the reason is how political masks have become, although I wonder if they’re getting less so as people become used to the requirement, the President wears one in public, and Red States are requiring them too.

Masks seem like the conservative alternative to lockdowns, a less intrusive government policy than requiring businesses to close and people to stay home (or in the case of airlines, a private sector policy – which should be even more appealing to conservatives).

Nonetheless, there’s frustration and a desire to thumb a nose at authorities who have gotten so much wrong during this crisis. The CDC and other health officials, including the Surgeon General and Dr. Fauci, told people not to wear masks early in the crisis, that they didn’t help, and they were lying to give government and health care an chance to buy up the good ones. One of the great shames of the crisis is that production of good quality mask production still hasn’t ramped up enough for the general public to buy them at scale.

So airlines have had to tell people they cannot wear women’s underwear as a mask, that masks have to go over the nose and mouth not just drape around one’s face or cover one’s eyes.

And the latest round, of which American Airlines is the latest to update its policy (matching Delta and United, effective August 19th), is that masks with valves are unacceptable. That’s because those protect the wearer, but do not protect others from the wearer. Similarly mesh and lace masks are not permitted.

There’s no more masks like the one that a Las Vegas Councilwoman and member of the Convention and Visitors Authority board promotes.

And there’s also none like this permitted:

There is one circumstance in which masks with valves are still permitted, though, according to an American Airlines spokesperson. A couple of years ago I was doing renovations on my house. I’ve got some N95 masks with vents in the garage. I haven’t donated them or worn them, because they aren’t protective of others. On the other hand though I’d love to benefit from their protection. American Airlines tells me, if a passenger “prefer[s] to wear a valved or vented [mask], they’ll need to have an approved one on top of it.”

So you can still wear a mask with a valve on American Airlines, as long as you cover it up with another mask.

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. As the number of people who have recovered from covid grows, there should be exceptions for those who can show that they have recovered and have antibodies. Making that (growing) group wear masks makes no sense at all.

  2. Wearing two masks is such OLD news. About July 1st, I got my 6 month teeth cleaning done without delay. Of course, I had to take my mask off to get my teeth cleaned! Yikes, I look up in trepidation at my usual nice looking dental hygienist standing over my face and smile as she is hiding behind TWO masks, a N95 and a surgical mask on top. Sure enough, she confirms there is an exhalation valve hidden under the surgical mask. I immediately realized that I would wear one of my N95 masks and a surgical mask on my next flight scheduled for September 1st.

  3. Unless airlines require proof of essential travel they still endanger lives by allowing people to travel for unnecessary reasons, like a vacation for example.

  4. Next up will be the “Gaiter Haters” as a result of the Duke study about neck gaiters & bandanas…. can’t wait.

  5. Sans a vaccine and continued spread – I think the airlines fear mandatory 72 hour testing especially for domestic travel.

  6. Doug – so antibodies don’t decay over time? There is contrary evidence to your assumption.

    Your assumption also rests on the dangerous theory that “the world will be safe when everyone has been sick.” Snag with that is many geriatric people will be dead in order for that herd immunity to be realized.

  7. There is no SCIENTIFIC evidence that masks do anything om an airplane except virtue signal and reduce trepidation. Maybe that’s enough. I’m actually more concerned about the millions of Americans who wear masks outside, like when they’re hiking or mowing the grass. That’s scientifically insane, but since nobody tells them this, they do it.

  8. I have the yellow Magen David band on my arm.Glad you feel better. Is there an approved for essential oil for this?

  9. Question: If and when a COVID-19 vaccine is approved by the FDA , if someone is vaccinated will they still need to wear a mask on an airplane? I think the answer is no. But how does the airline enforce that rule? Do you upload your vaccination card into your reservation or frequent flyer profile (similar to your Trusted Traveler number)? Just wondering what it will look like a year from now.

  10. @Mike – the answer is pretty likely to be yes, flight attendants aren’t going to go around checking who has to wear a mask and who doesn’t.

  11. @Andrew-No, antibodies don’t “decay” over time; they can become dormant and not traceable but exposure to pathogens will reactivate them, as well as T-cells.

  12. @Gary-But for how long? Ten years, forever? I’m not an anti-mask person. But I can certainly see a lot of people who are vaccinated saying hey I don’t need to wear a mask anymore. I’m just wondering here.

  13. @Mike – I agree, a requirement is likely to last longer than necessary ‘out of an abundance of caution’. Eventually one airline will drop the rule and others will follow. That’s better, though, than if a federal mask mandate were put in place – government rules are far harder to rescind.

  14. People think antibodies work. Just because that’s literally how the body works doesn’t mean it’s true.

    And yes, there will be a vaccine. And yes, you will have to take it (or else). But it won’t be a guarantee, so you’ll still have to wear your muzzle, sorry, mask.

    Now go back behind your screen and use that to communicate. That way, Facebook’s content moderators can choose what you’re allowed to talk about – and they can make money off of your data. Much better than talking face to face, right?

  15. It’s too bad that mask wearing has become so politicized that we can’t have nuanced discussions and policies.

    At this point, maybe America just deserves a few million dead and a total economic collapse as punishment for its collective pigheadedness.

  16. If QAnon said that masks were the key to overcoming the Liberal/Hollywood/Deep State child trafficking ring slash new world order, you’d never hear another MAGA troll complain about wearing one again

  17. @UA-NYC,

    Just so we’re clear, When the government proclaims next week that the masks don’t seem to be working quickly enough (or at all) to stop the covids in it’s tracks, and that we’re going to all have to get tracking chips implanted, out of an abundance of caution, in these trying and uncertain times, to help in contact tracing efforts, for everyone’s health and safety… You’d be the first one in line?

  18. Out of “an abundance of caution” (NOT) I drove from Austin to San Diego and I’ll be driving back. I merely don’t want the hassle of putting up with any additional BS that is now involved with flying someplace/anyplace on public, very public, transportation. Is two days of 9+ hours of driving worth it? Marginally. The real beneficiaries are Interstate Travel Centers (gas stations), fast food establishments (same as in airports) and Hilton. But a bonus is there is no extra up charge to take extra bag and my dog with me!

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