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

May 1, 2020

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Every day, it becomes more apparent that the novel coronavirus will drastically change travel — and, for at least a little while, it may be unrecognizable. As the world waits for a vaccine or treatment, travelers are considering the scenarios in which they’ll travel again in the near and distant future.

Meanwhile, airlines are researching and instituting new onboard practices for employees and travelers to ensure safety. JetBlue was one of the first domestic airlines to mandate face masks for crew, and this week, it also unveiled its plan to require passengers to wear face coverings from check-in to deplaning starting on May 4. Frontier quickly followed suit, as did American and Delta. 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 we’ll all likely need to start packing a face covering as entire cities and states implement policies that require us to cover our nose and mouth. 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) advises 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 with your hands.
  • If you have to cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth while doing so.
  • If you feel sick, stay home and away from others.
  • 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 with a solution of at least 60% alcohol or a disinfectant wipe.

While face masks weren’t originally part of the CDC’s recommendations for the public, the guidelines recently changed. According to the organization, face masks are most effective when worn by the 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 begin to travel again, 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.

Due to the scarcity of medical-grade face masks, it’s important to heed the CDC’s recommendation to leave the surgical masks and N-95 respirators for healthcare workers and medical first responders. The supply chain needs to first ramp up to provide enough masks for the medical community, and then the public at large.

Related: I tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies … so, now what?

Fortunately, there are still a variety of face masks from which to choose. Here are some 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 — has been making fabric face masks. The CDC has provided step-by-step instructions for sewing a fabric face mask. Just note that these are not medical grade. If you plan to sew masks for your local hospital, there are additional requirements for the type of fabric you use.

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

Related: How US airlines are handling distancing, masks and more

Surgical-grade face masks

You may already have a box of surgical-grade paper face masks that you’ve used to protect yourself from smog and other pollutants in big cities. We should reserve these masks for the medical community right now. But, 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)

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 may be a consideration. But it may not fit the bill as a compliant face covering when flying. JetBlue, for example, refers to the CDC guidance that describes “a suitable face covering as an item of cloth that … fit[s] snugly against the side of the face, [is] secured with ties or ear loops, include[s] multiple layers of fabric and allow[s] for unrestricted breathing.”

Related: American Airlines announces dramatic new anti-coronavirus measures

So, this type of hat won’t be useful on flights where a face mask is required. But it could 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. If you suspect you could be a coronavirus carrier, you should definitely wear a face mask to give those around you 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 month, she arrived 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 by Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images

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