Travelers may now be breaking the law by refusing to wear a face mask

Feb 1, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

For much of the pandemic, the CDC has recommended that you cover your face whenever you’re around people outside your household. It’s always been the most effective measure when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID-19, but now you have no choice but to comply — as of this week, in many cases, face masks are required by federal law.

A new federal mandate kicks in tomorrow, Feb. 2 — as TPG’s Victoria Walker reported over the weekend, face masks must be worn on all public transportation in the United States, including airplanes, trains, buses, taxis and rideshare services.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

For months, all U.S. airlines have required that their customers wear masks onboard flights and in many areas within the airport — now, you’ll be legally obligated to wear them onboard all flights that touch the United States, and within all U.S. airports, including at TSA checkpoints.

The TSA — one of the agencies tasked with enforcing the mandate — is clear on what constitutes an appropriate face covering:

“According to the CDC Order, face masks should cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides without gaps. Masks can be either manufactured or homemade and should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures. While medical masks and N-95 respirators fulfill CDC and TSA’s requirements, face shields and/or goggles are not an acceptable substitute for the use of a mask; however, they may be used in addition to an acceptable mask.”

While you will be permitted to remove your mask to eat and drink, the TSA’s security directive is specific about how quickly it needs to be replaced, stating that masks “must be worn between bites and sips.”

Similarly, you may be required to briefly lower your mask so a TSA officer can confirm your identity at a screening checkpoint, though it should be promptly replaced. Customers with Clear memberships may be able to avoid lowering their masks by beginning the screening process at a Clear kiosk.

There are very limited exceptions for travelers with specific conditions, as well. Namely, you may be able to avoid wearing a mask if you are:

  • Actively vomiting
  • Under the age of two
  • Short of breath (you can remove the mask to catch your breath)
  • Unable to breathe without supplemental oxygen, and are wearing an oxygen mask
  • Have a very specific disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act

Additionally, you can remove your mask if you are actively communicating with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, and won’t be able to understand what you’re saying if they’re unable to see your mouth.

Related: Traveling during the pandemic? It might be time to upgrade your mask

What penalties might you face if you don’t comply? It’s likely to depend on how you respond when confronted. In you replace your mask right away, you might get off with a verbal warning. If you don’t, you may be removed from the airport and banned from the airline. If the situation escalates, you might be looking at steep fines, or criminal penalties, if law enforcement becomes involved.

Ultimately, it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to comply. This law is intended to curb the spread of COVID-19, and masks are an effective measure — by wearing one around people outside your household, you may even help save lives.

Featured photo courtesy of TSA.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.