As a number of COVID restrictions have come and gone and come back, one has remained consistent: you must wear a mask on planes. This requirement was instituted by many airlines early in the pandemic to keep air travel safe, and government agencies around the world have doubled that with their own mandates. Airlines have issued fines, removed passengers from planes and even canceled entire flights following people who have flouted mask rules over the past year. Now, some companies are taking their mandate even further by banning one type of mask altogether. Read on to find out which face covering could prevent you from being allowed on future flights.
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Cloth masks have been widely used by people around the world since the start of the pandemic, becoming especially popular when medical masks were in short supply for frontline workers. But this type of face covering may no longer cut it in some situations. According to Travel + Leisure, many major international airlines now ban cloth masks, including Finnair, Air France, Lufthansa, Swissair, Croatia Airlines and LATAM Airlines. These airlines only allow other more effective masks, such as N95 masks, KN95 masks, surgical masks, and respirators without exhaust valves.
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Finnair is the newest airline banning cloth masks on August 13, saying face coverings aren’t protective enough. “The safety of our customers and employees is our first priority. Cloth masks are slightly less effective in protecting people from infection than surgical masks,” Finnair said in a statement.
A recent study be peer-reviewed for publication in the review Science and pre-printed early August 13 confirms this. Researchers in this study analyzed more than 340,000 adults from 600 villages in rural Bangladesh and found that cloth masks did not work the same as surgical masks. The study authors said that while they found “clear evidence” that surgical masks are effective in reducing symptomatic COVID, they could not say the same for cloth masks. According to the study, surgical masks had a filtration efficiency of 95%, while cloth coverings were only 37% efficient.
“While cloth masks clearly reduce symptoms, we cannot dismiss that they have no or only a small impact on symptomatic COVID infections,” the authors wrote. “Surgical masks have higher filtration efficiency, are less expensive, are worn consistently, and are better supported by our evidence as tools to reduce COVID-19.”
It is not yet clear whether major US-based airlines will follow ban cloth masks, but it might be worth preparing for it, depending on fast business. In fact, there are different types of face coverings already banned by some of these airlines. Although Delta Air Lines states that “cloth masks with a tightly woven fabric are still permitted,” it currently prohibits passengers from wearing bandanas, scarves, masks with exhaust valves, and any mask with slits, perforations, or holes. United Airlines says bandanas are not authorized, and notes that a “face shield alone does not count as a face covering”. Both South West and American airlines also banned balaclavas, bandanas and scarves.
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US airlines may ban cloth masks this year as the federal mask mandate for airlines has been extended. This order was first implemented in January and was due to expire on May 11 before being extended until September 13. But on August 20, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it would extend the federal face mask requirement again, this time until January 18 next year. “The purpose of the TSA mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” an administration spokesperson told Business Insider.
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