- This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: July 19, 2021
In January 2021, the Transportation Security Administration issued a mandate requiring the wearing of masks by passengers in airport security checkpoints as well as throughout their travels in the transportation network. That mandate has been extended through Sept. 13, 2021, temporarily answering the question of how long people have to wear masks on airplanes.
The mask requirement was set to expire on May 11. But flight attendants wanted it extended through September. With support from airlines, as well as President Joe Biden in the weeks leading up to it, an extension to the mandate was then announced. This extension includes buses, planes, trains, and any other public transport.
Violations of this mandate include a fine starting at $250, which rises to $1,500 for repeat violators.
Advocates for the mandate being allowed to expire cited the air circulation in an aircraft, which has fresh air constantly pumped throughout the cabin. Airplanes use high efficiency particulate air filters, which are powerful enough to be effective against COVID-19 particles. However, they alone are not enough to contain the spread of coronavirus.
With people packed into a small space like an airplane cabin, the spreadability of the virus becomes a matter of what extra precautions are taken, with masking shown to be the most effective so far.
But by the summer of 2020, a group of Republican politicians had enough of the mask mandates and introduced a bill that would end the requirement.
The Centers for Disease Control is still advising against nonessential travel to many locations which are considered high-risk for COVID-19. Few countries have been deemed moderate-to-low-risk, such as Australia, New Zealand, and China. Not that Americans can travel to Australia or New Zealand anytime soon anyway.
This is all to say: Consider packing an extra mask for your flight. Because for the time being and perhaps for even longer, wearing masks on an airplane is going to be a requirement.
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