How to navigate the recently dropped mask mandate while traveling
Needless to say, it's been quite a week in the world of travel news, especially for myself and TPG's rock-star team of aviation reporters who worked nonstop to report on the developing story of the removal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask mandate.
As it stands, the decision of whether to wear a mask on board commercial U.S. transit, including planes, now lies in the hands of travelers thanks to the removal of the mandate by a federal judge in Florida and subsequent action by the Biden administration.
Although the decision is currently under appeal by the Department of Justice, the conversation has shifted to be less about whether masks may once again be required on transit and more about the White House reminding the country how the three branches of government are supposed to operate.
This week's column attempts to answer questions surrounding the topic of the week — how does the removal of the U.S. mask mandate affect travel moving forward?
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Where are masks still required?
Domestically, masks are required on New York public transit
Although all statewide mask mandates had been removed as of March 26, New York state officials recently reintroduced an indoor mask mandate for public transit, meaning travelers passing through New York airports, including John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA), are subject to this rule. Essentially, you'd have to wear a mask in these airports until the plane takes off.
This also applies to the New York City subway system.
On Wednesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said she expects the mandate to remain in place for at least the "short term," though the duration of that is unclear.
Mask mandates vary by airline/country for international travel
When traveling abroad, a mask may or may not be required on your flight, regardless of whether you are traveling on a domestic or international carrier. Unfortunately, there is not an all-encompassing answer to this because mask requirements vary by country and are dependent on local law, based on both your departure and arrival country.
Because of this, various airlines still enforce mask policies. To verify mask expectations for your travels, go through these steps to ensure you have the most updated information:
- Consult a country's local COVID-19 rules as outlined by the government in addition to the U.S. Embassy's website for that country.
- Review TPG's airline-by-airline guide outlining current mask policies for some international carriers.
- Double-check with your airline ahead of travel and see if your carrier has outlined destination-specific rules.
For example, Air France travelers can use an online tool called TravelDoc to verify COVID-19-related travel requirements for Air France flights.
Some airlines may require you to wear a mask even if the local government doesn't
To further confuse us, some airlines may have policies that do not align with the government.
For example, Air Canada says on its website that face masks remain compulsory on all Air Canada flights.
Currently, all incoming fully vaccinated travelers to Canada are also expected to wear masks for 14 days after arrival, but the Canadian government announced Friday that this requirement will be lifted on April 25.
Since masks are not otherwise legally required in indoor public spaces across the country, masks would be required on your way to Canada but not once you arrive as of Monday, applicable for vaccinated persons.
Which types of masks protect me the most?
Opt for a surgical mask
By this point, we know that not all masks are created equal as research has shown that surgical masks, specifically N95 masks, offer the most protection. Do yourself and others around you a favor and throw your cloth masks in the trash, not just because some airlines prohibit you from wearing them.
What else do I need to know about current US COVID-19 restrictions?
The US still requires a predeparture test for all travelers age 2 and older
Certain countries, including the U.S., still ask incoming travelers to take a COVID-19 test at various times throughout their trip. While you don't have to wear a mask for domestic travel within the U.S. or for flights to the U.S. departing from other countries that have also eliminated mask mandates, you must still take a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of departure for the U.S.
Save yourself frustration and time by traveling with an approved at-home test, which will enable you to test from the comfort of a hotel room or wherever it is you are staying. Your future self will thank you.
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