Do your kids have to wear face masks on the plane?

Jul 23, 2020

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Since May, U.S. passenger airlines have required passengers to wear face coverings. However, what started as a rule with exceptions for those who stated they had medical conditions that prevented the wearing of a face covering or for “young children,” has recently tightened up.

Now, an increasing number of U.S. airlines require face coverings over the mouth and nose — both in the airport and in the plane for all but a very small number of passengers that include babies and those with documented and approved medical exemptions. Not only are masks required, but the airlines are banning passengers who do not comply with the rules. Delta has already banned more than 100 passengers, and now United and American Airlines are following suit.

Naturally, there are many questions about these evolving rules, especially if you are taking your first family flight in a while.

There are questions such as: Do you have to wear a mask on every flight? Yes. For the whole flight? Yes, except when eating or drinking.

Even if I am asleep on the plane? Yes.

What if my 2-year-old doesn’t like masks? I know it’s hard, but, yes, that’s still the rule.

What about at Disney World or Universal Orlando? Also yes — even in the summer heat. Even for toddlers aged 2 and up.

Where do you even buy a mask for a kid? Well, we’ve got you covered — and keep reading for more recommendations below.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children ages 2 and up wear face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain — and this includes on a plane. The CDC does not, however, recommend face coverings for children under the age of 2, so your babies and young toddlers are exempt from the recommendation from the CDC and also from the U.S. airlines.

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Airline face mask requirements for children

So, what does this all mean for children when flying across the country or beyond? While that could change, there are currently no federal government or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directives regarding face masks to turn to for guidance, but here’s what the individual airlines have to say specifically regarding children and face masks.

American Airlines

A face covering is required while flying on American, except for children under 2 years old. Starting July 29, 2020, you’ll also be required to wear a face covering in the airport where your trip begins, where it ends and where you connect. American asks that you bring your own face covering, though limited complimentary masks may be available at the gate.

Delta

Face coverings are required starting in the check-in lobby and across Delta touch points including Delta Sky Clubs, boarding gate areas, jet bridges and on board the aircraft for the duration of the flight – except during meal service. Their use is also strongly encouraged in high-traffic areas including security lines and restrooms. People unable to keep a face covering in place, including children, are exempt.

Frontier

Passengers are required to wear a face-covering over nose and mouth at our ticket counters, gate areas and while onboard our aircraft. This does not apply to very young children who are unable to maintain a face covering.

Note that Frontier is also conducting touchless temperature screenings at the gate. All passengers (and crew) must have a temperature below 100.4 degrees.

Related: TPG compared experiences flying four different U.S. airlines

Hawaiian Airlines

Guests are required to wear a face mask or covering that covers the mouth and nose while boarding, through the duration of the flight and while deplaning at their destination. Please check local airport rules at your departure and arrival airports for specific requirements regarding face masks.

Young children unable to keep a face covering on, or guests with a medical condition or disability preventing its use, are exempt from the policy.

JetBlue

Customers are required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth throughout their journey, including during check-in, boarding, while in flight and deplaning. CDC guidance defines a suitable face covering as an item of cloth that fits snugly against the side of the face, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric and allow for unrestricted breathing.

Young children who are not able to maintain a face covering are exempt from this requirement

Southwest Airlines

Customers are required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth at all times during their Southwest travel experience. It is highly encouraged to bring your own hand sanitizer and face covering, though if you forget your face covering at home, a mask will be available for you.

The only exceptions to the mask rules are for children under the age of 2 (in alignment with CDC age guidelines).

Spirit Airlines

Spirit requires appropriate face coverings during travel. Children aged 2 and under, as well as children who cannot maintain a face covering, are exempt. If you need one, Spirit has masks available for $3 each (and it is donating the proceeds to the American Red Cross).

United

All travelers aged 2 and up are required to wear face coverings during their entire flight, except when eating or drinking. This includes at the airport, at the United customer service counters and kiosks, in the United Clubs, at the gates and baggage claim. The airline will provide a mask if you don’t have one.

What if my airline isn’t mentioned?

Check your airline’s website directly for the most up-to-date information, but at this point, masks are a standard requirement when flying in the U.S. What still varies a bit is whether all children aged 2 and up require a mask (just as all children aged 2 and up require a paid seat) or whether the airline is still going with a more nebulous “young child” designation.

Related: How coronavirus can change the future of travel

How do you get your children to wear a mask on the plane?

Remember, children under 2 shouldn’t wear a mask, according to the CDC. But those who are right at their second birthday or even slightly older may still have a hard time cooperating at first.

Luckily, there are things you can do to help your child become more comfortable with a face mask on the plane and beyond.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends (AAP) putting the mask on a favorite stuffed animal, decorating the mask or wearing masks while looking in the mirror to normalize the experience — as will seeing parents and older siblings wearing masks. Of course, simply practicing wearing a mask at home will likely help kids wear it in less familiar situations.

While at the reopening of Disney World, I saw countless toddlers successfully wearing face masks, even in the Orlando heat.

Related: Where you can buy face masks for travel right now

KidsHealth recommends giving your child time to get familiar with the mask and using simple words to explain why people are wearing them.

Nathan Richardson, executive vice president at TPG, says to “lead by example and don’t negotiate.” It may sound a little harsh, he says, but it’s necessary.

Where to find a child-sized face mask

First, keep in mind that hospital-grade face masks, such as N95 respirators, remain in critically short supply, and should be reserved for travelers who are most at risk of complications from COVID-19, healthcare workers and medical first responders.

There’s still a wide variety of face masks you can choose from, though. Cloth and even DIY masks are the currently recommended solutions for use while in flight. Luckily, many retailers have started to make child-sized or child-friendly face masks.

The AAP says pleated masks with elastic are likely to work best for children, but it’s important to make sure you have the right size. While adult masks are usually 6 by 12 inches, a child-sized mask measuring 5 by 10 inches might still be too large for young children. You’ll want to find one that’s the right size for their face and adjust it to make sure it’s secure.

Disney

Your kids will no doubt love Disney’s face masks, featuring prints with their favorite characters ranging from Mickey to baby Yoda and Disney princesses.

You can order a four-pack for $19.99 on Disney’s website. Many of the sizes and designs are still back-ordered for a few weeks so be sure and order well in advance of your trip. Be aware, small masks measure about 4.5 by 2.5 inches (or 4.5 by 4.5 inches when the mask pleats are stretched) so that is the size for a very young child — like a 2 to 3-year-old.

Likely by 4-years-old, your child likely needs a medium in Disney masks. Tweens, teens and adults need a large. Adults with a larger face size will need an extra-large. My 10-year-old and I below are both wearing a large.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Sweaty Bands

Retailer Sweaty Bands also has youth-sized masks in a handful of prints. They often start at $17.99 each. Just keep in mind that, even though they’re youth size, they’re likely ideal for kids ages 8 and up or even smaller adults. These masks have been shipping relatively quickly in our tests.

Alex and Nova

Alex and Nova has adorable “Mom and Me” three-mask sets, complete with a filter pocket.

They come in both pink and beige shades, featuring plaid, floral and polka dot prints. The soft cotton should be comfortable, and wearing the same mask as Mom (or Dad!) should put your kid’s mind at ease. You can buy a set for $39 ($78 for both) on Alex and Nova’s website. Youth masks are designed for kids ages 3 to 10, and measure about 4.5 by 9.8 inches.

Below is TPG’s Summer Hull’s daughter wearing a $20 Alex and Nova mask, size 2 – 4.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Joah Love

I have an order placed for this brand, though have not yet received the order to test. However, based on photos, it looks like these masks will be a good bet as they have a kids size for those ages 2 – 6 years old (4 – 4.75 inches) with adjustable ear straps. For older kids, the brand recommends a small/medium which measures 5.75 – 6.25 inches.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Walking into Monday like…???????? #joahlovemaskup #maskupchallenge #madeinusa

A post shared by Joah Love (@joahlove) on Apr 13, 2020 at 12:22pm PDT

There are many cute styles and colors and prices start at $20 per masks, with a 20% discount if you order five or more.

Bottom line

While only you can make the very personal decision about when it’s the right time for your family to fly again — in conjunction with medical recommendations, relevant travel bans and quarantine restrictions, of course — you’ll also want to be sure to brush up on the new inflight mask requirements before heading to the airport.

Keep in mind that while most U.S. airlines are still relative broad on what counts as a mask (as long as nose and mouth are required), if you are flying to somewhere such as Disney the restrictions may be tighter and may ban options such as bandanas or neck gators pulled up above the nose, so check the restrictions carefully.

But the bottom line, for now, is that across the U.S. all major airlines are requiring masks, and most are specifically mandating it for kids aged 2 and up.

Featured image courtesy of narvikk/Getty Images

Additional reporting by Samantha Rosen

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