If you need to wear a face mask on your next flight, these are your choices

Nov 29, 2021

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It is quite apparent by now that the novel coronavirus has changed the way we travel — perhaps in a permanent fashion.  As vaccines roll out at varying paces around the world, travellers are considering the scenarios in which they’ll travel again in the near and distant future. One thing is certain, however, face masks remain mandatory for passengers on just about every airline, from major carriers like British Airways to budget airlines like Ryanair, as a precaution against COVID-19.

Airlines are also researching and putting in place new onboard practices for employees and travellers to ensure safety. JetBlue was one of the first domestic U.S. airlines to mandate face masks for the crew, and also requires passengers to wear face coverings from check-in to deplaning starting. Frontier quickly followed suit, as did American and Delta. Internationally, Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France and more now require passengers — and sometimes crew — to wear facemasks. It may only be a matter of time before you need to wear a face mask to board any flight in the country — or the world.

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A Passenger with face mask as seen in an Aegean Airlines Airbus A320 airplane as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 at Athens International Airport ATH LGAV in Athens, Greece on March 17, 2020. Greece and Europe closed the borders for people outside of Europe and the Schengen zone, arriving travellers will be required to quarantine for 14 days. Greece has 418 patients and 4 fatal cases. March 17, 2020 (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
You may need to wear a face mask on your next flight. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The reality is, despite the ongoing distribution of vaccines and booster shots, travellers all need to continue to expect to wear face coverings on planes for the foreseeable future. Here’s a look at some of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that you may decide to wear on a future flight — whether it’s mandated or because it provides you with additional peace of mind.

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Before looking at various types of PPE, let’s dispel the myth that a face mask alone can stop coronavirus in its tracks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now advises that in general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings if you are fully vaccinated unless it’s very crowded or you will be around people who are unvaccinated. The agency does advise that anyone two years of age or older who is not inoculated should wear masks while in indoor settings.

The CDC also suggests the following measures to help avoid contracting or transmitting the coronavirus — or even just the seasonal flu.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and be sure to scrub all parts of your hands and fingers.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are unwashed.
  • If you have to cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth while doing so with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow.
  • If others are sick, avoid contact with them.
  • If using tissues, discard them immediately and wash your hands after each use.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces, such as aeroplane seat trays, with a solution of at least 60% alcohol or a disinfectant wipe.

According to the CDC, face masks are most effective when worn by a person who is sick. It helps prevent any shedding virus particles from spreading to others. It’s not foolproof, but it helps. And, while a healthy person wearing a mask isn’t as effective, it can certainly block some particles from easily getting into your mouth or nose.

Related: Will a face mask keep you safe from viruses on a plane?

Face mask types

As you plan your next trip, you’ll want a face mask in your carry-on. You may even be required to wear one in the airport while boarding and deplaning, and even during flight and you have quite a lot of different options.

Eye mask turned face mask

In a pinch, you can wear an eye mask — the type you’ve received many times as part of an inflight amenity kit — in an effort to shield your nose and mouth. That’s really if you can’t muster up a better-fitting face covering that comfortable covers your nose and mouth and stays on your face without too much effort.

(Photo courtesy of The Points Guy)
(Photo courtesy of The Points Guy)

Related: Should you use an airline sleep mask as a face cover during coronavirus?

Fabric face masks

Everyone with a sewing machine — or needle, thread and steady hands — was making fabric face masks in the midst of the pandemic. The CDC even provided step-by-step instructions for sewing a fabric face mask. Just note that these are not medical grade.

fabric face masks
Two types of fabric face masks. (Photo by Apple_Mac/Shutterstock)

Surgical-grade face masks

You may already have had a box of surgical-grade paper face masks that you’ve used to protect yourself from smog and other pollutants in big cities and they’re now one of the most common in the times of COVID. If you’re already using these masks, you can don them on your next flight and comply with airline face-covering requirements.

surgical face mask
Surgical-grade face mask. (Photo by Shopping King Louie/Shutterstock)


Foggy glasses have become one of the many aggravations of the pandemic era. Admittedly, it’s a very minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things, but if you wear glasses, you know how frustrating this can be. This is especially bothersome on a plane, where the air being pumped into the cabin only makes things worse.

If you want to avoid this, look for masks that offer a snug fit and have a nose bridge or clamp, adjustable ear straps, and are made from moisture-wicking material. There are a number of good options out there at various price points and in many different styles, like Uniqlo’s AIR-ism mask.

The AIR-ism mask is designed to wick away moisture.
The AIR-ism mask is designed to wick away moisture. (Photo courtesy of Uniqlo)

Face shields

For people who are uncomfortable wearing a mask that snugly covers the nose and mouth, a hat or visor with a clear, extended shield over the face would be a consideration. However, most airlines will not allow a passenger to wear a face shield, instead of a mask, on a plane as a compliant face covering. So it’s fine to wear while inside an airport terminal, but once you board, you will have to wear a mask once seated.

JetBlue, for example, states its policy on its website, saying “plastic face shields may be worn in addition to a face mask but not in place of one.”

So, this type of mask won’t be useful on flights where a face mask is required. But it can certainly give you peace of mind as you make your way through the airport. You could, of course, also pair this type of protective accessory with a more traditional fabric face mask for additional protection.

A face shield could be a good compromise for parents who want their children to wear PPE on a flight but know it’s not practical to assume a face mask would stay on for any length of time. Antsy kids may also knock a hat or visor off their heads, but it’s something to try if you know your kid won’t wear a mask.

Protective coveralls

Now, we’re betting you won’t feel the need to do a full Naomi Campbell on your next flight, but the supermodel has been known to get very creative with her PPE. Last year, she made headlines after arriving at Los Angels International (LAX) sporting a mask, gloves and head-to-toe protective coveralls, the likes of which you can purchase at any home improvement store.

But, when it comes to protecting yourself and those around you from the coronavirus, there’s no evidence wearing anything like this would provide additional protection, since scientists say the virus is spread through particles that can enter the nose, mouth and even the eyes.

Bottom line

We may all need to wear some type of face covering the next time we fly. We’ll keep you updated on requirements as they are instituted and offer information on face mask types and where to find them.

Until then, brush up on best practices for wearing a mask or any type of PPE. Wash your hands, or use a disinfectant, before handling the face covering. Carefully put it on your face, and when you take it off, use the ear straps to remove it and place it in a clean plastic bag. Don’t put it down on the tray table, seat or any other surface that could be contaminated — especially if you plan to reuse the mask. Before putting it back on your face, wash your hands again.

It may take a bit of getting used to, but hopefully wearing a face mask won’t be a permanent part of our travel routine. And remember, it’s an important precaution to protect others and ourselves while returning to normalcy as quickly as is safely possible.

Featured image by Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images

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