More and more international airlines are requiring surgical masks

Aug 17, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story was updated with additional information on Aug. 17. It was originally published on Aug. 14.

More and more airlines and airports are requiring higher-grade masks.

Starting Aug. 16, Finnair, the air carrier known for connecting flights between Europe and Asia, will require all passengers onboard to wear surgical masks, the airline said, joining Lufthansa, Swiss Air Lines, Air France, Croatia Airlines and others in prohibiting fabric face coverings on flights.

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Finnair took to Twitter to announce a new requirement for passengers to wear approved masks — specifically surgical masks or valve-free FFP2 or FFP3 respirator masks, in addition to other valve-free masks that have the same standard as N95 masks.

“The mask needs to continuously cover your nose and mouth. You can only remove it for a limited time while you’re eating or drinking,” Finnair tweeted on Aug. 13. “Please make sure you always wear a mask when interacting with Finnair employees, whether it’s at the airport or onboard.”

Related: Finland reopening to Americans

In June, the airline launched its inaugural transatlantic flights to the U.S. and Asia from Stockholm, marking the first transatlantic routes the carrier will operate out of Stockholm.

Read more: Finnair set to launch transatlantic flights to US and Asia from Stockholm


Since Feb. 1, German airline Lufthansa has required passengers and crew to wear medical masks on all flights to and from Germany to comply with a federal/state law passed on Jan. 19.

“From that date (Feb. 1), passengers will be required to wear either a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask or mask with the KN95/N95 standard during boarding, the flight and when leaving the aircraft,” the airline said in a press release. “Everyday masks are then no longer permitted.”

(Image courtesy of Lufthansa)

Read more: Lufthansa’s beloved First Class Terminal will reopen soon

Swiss Air Lines

Read more: Great lounge and service: A review of Swiss Air Lines’ business class on the 777

In line with Lufthansa, Swiss too has required surgical masks aboard its aircraft since Feb.1, updating their initial July 6, 2020, mask mandate recommending fabric masks.

“The obligation to wear a mouth-nose cover applies to all passengers (also vaccinated and recovered) and staff on board,” Swiss currently notes on its website. “On all flights facemasks of the FFP2, KN95, or N95 standard, as well as surgical masks, are obligatory when boarding, onboard, and when leaving the aircraft.” Masks must be valve-free.

Passengers under the age of 12 are exempt from this rule, excluding on flights to the U.S., as U.S. law requires all passengers over the age of 2 to wear face masks.

Air France

Surgical masks are also compulsory on Air France, as part of their Air France Protect measures in response to COVID-19.

“For the health and safety of all, the wearing of a surgical mask is mandatory from the moment you arrive at the airport and throughout your Air France flight,” Air France says on their website.

“A surgical mask filters at least 95% of particles as small as 3 microns in size, and serves a dual purpose – it obviously filters particles emitted by the mask wearer, but according to the French National Research and Safety Institute, it also protects the person wearing the mask against droplets emitted by a person facing them,” says the airline. “The surgical mask both filters inhaled and expired air.”

Acceptable masks on Air France flights during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Screenshot courtesy of Air France)

Paris Aeroport, which includes Charles de Gaulle (CDG), Orly (ORY) and Le Bourget (LBG), notes on their website that “only surgical masks are allowed on the aircraft; cloth masks are prohibited.” Additionally, masks are required both inside and outside terminals, per the French government.

Croatia Airlines

“Passengers are required to bring and wear medical face protective masks that fully cover nose and mouth aboard all Croatia Airlines flights,” says Croatia Airlines, which adds that acceptable protective masks include “surgical masks and filtering half masks (FFP2, N95 or KN95 mask without valve).”

TPG reader Bryan Hawk learned of this requirement firsthand onboard a recent flight from tourist favorite Dubrovnik.

“We were on a Dubrovnik to Frankfurt flight last month and got pulled aside when boarding because we didn’t have medical masks on. We had masks on, but medical were required,” he told me via email. “Had we paid closer attention to the announcements we would have known this.  Fortunately, they provided us with some and we were able to continue.”

Read more: Air Canada now lets you earn elite status without flying

Ambiguous policies

Although Air Canada prohibits nonmedical masks, the Canadian airline says “cotton” masks are approved, while TAP Air Portugal recommends surgical masks without requiring them.

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

Featured photo of a Finnair Airbus A350 in Hamburg, Germany, in October 2015 by Daniel Bockwoldt/picture alliance via Getty Images.

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