- All children over two years old must wear a mask at US airports and in flight.
- An exception to the rule is when you eat, drink, or take medication.
- Flyers who violate mask rules, even children, can be removed from a flight and banned from an airline.
Traveling with children this summer will present a whole new set of challenges for parents.
Airlines have largely abandoned social distancing practices such as blocking middle seats and boarding planes from back to front, but mask requirements remain. Air travelers are now required to wear face masks on board planes and at U.S. airports under federal law, with a few exceptions.
Here’s how to navigate the face mask rules when traveling with children.
Do children have to wear masks?
All travelers, including children and those who have been vaccinated, are required by federal law to wear a face mask when in a U.S. airport or on an airplane. Other countries have different rules, but most require travelers to wear face masks.
Children under the age of two are automatically exempt from wearing face masks in the United States on planes and at airports. All other passengers must wear a mask or request an exemption from the airline before a flight.
Airlines, however, are lenient on permitted masks. Standard surgical masks are all that is needed and they are often the most comfortable. Makeshift masks from bandanas, scarves, ski masks or balaclavas are not allowed, as well as masks with vents, slits, punctures, holes or exhaust valves.
Exceptions to the mask rule
Flyers are not required to wear masks when actively eating or drinking, or when taking oral medication. Some airlines will advise travelers to mask themselves between bites or sips, but the application of this rule varies by airline.
Some flyers will just choose food or take an open glass and pretend to eat to avoid the mask rule because Senator Ted Cruz was seen doing in July 2020. In these cases, the application is at the discretion of the flight attendants and other passengers can complain.
Flyers whose health condition prevents them from wearing a mask may request an exemption. Each airline’s exemption process is different, but often requires submitting an application in advance and speaking with an airline’s airport staff to verify the exemption.
Travelers requesting an exemption must arrive at an airport very early in order to have sufficient time to process the request.
How strict are flight attendants?
The application varies during each flight and at each airport, as not all airline staff are proactive with the application of masks as the pandemic enters its 16th month. As Insider found on recent flights, some flight attendants and airport staff have chosen not to enforce the rule when faced with passengers without a mask.
But that doesn’t mean the industry as a whole has given up on the rule. Many flight attendants and airport staff are strict and will remind passengers to mask themselves if a blanket falls lightly under passengers’ noses, such as Insider also found on recent flights.
What happens if you get caught?
The flight crew have the final say on who should fly, and maskless passengers could face serious consequences for repeatedly breaking the rule.
If flight attendants suspect that passengers intentionally and repeatedly violate mask policies, they may choose to have those passengers removed from the plane. A family has been removed from a Frontier Airlines flight from Miami to New York in February after flight attendants said they weren’t wearing masks properly.
Airlines can also prohibit passengers who repeatedly disobey flight attendant instructions from masquerading. Since the start of the pandemic, airlines have collectively prohibits more than 2,500 passengers for not wearing masks, from January.
If passengers without a mask become unruly, the Federal Aviation Administration can seek enforcement actions and fines of up to $ 37,000.