From the classroom to the playground, children are now accustomed to the fact that masks are a must anytime they’re around other people. Naturally, that rule extends to travel. Be it on a bus or on a train, masks are de rigueur. But some parents might be wondering, do kids have to wear a mask for an entire flight? Airline rules have changed since the start of the pandemic from loose mask regulations to more stringent policies, but one thing is for certain: If your child is past toddlerhood, they'd better get used to wearing it for a long time.
“Our policy states that we require all Customers over the age of two to wear a face covering or face mask while traveling to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19,” Chris Mainz, senior manager of public relations at Southwest Airlines, tells Romper. Southwest does its best to ensure passengers are well aware of the rule, with multiple notices via a pre-trip email prior to departure as well as a required acknowledgement that’s part of the Customer Health Declaration Form which appears during the check-in process on the Southwest app, Southwest.com, Southwest’s mobile website, and airport kiosks. But Mainz says the airline also understands that passengers, including children, may need to briefly remove their face covering to eat, drink, or take medicine. “However, we expect these instances to be very brief, and customers should put their face covering back on as soon as possible," he adds.
Southwest’s mask protocols are in line with nearly all of the major airlines operating currently: Keep that mask on tight unless you have to hydrate or get a quick nibble, then buckle it back up covering your nose and mouth for the duration of the flight.
On Delta for instance, children over age two and adults aren’t just required to wear a mask inflight — except when eating and drinking — they also must have one on during lobby check-in, in the Delta Sky Clubs, while boarding at gate areas, and on the the jet bridges, says Drake Castañeda of Delta’s Corporate Communications team.
You might be wondering, how come children under two get a pass on these rules? Martha Thomas, a spokeswoman for American Airlines tells Romper in an email that “this age is in line with Centers for Disease Control & Prevent recommendations and we do not offer any other exemptions due to the risk of asymptomatic spread of COVID 19.”
And parents should know that some airlines are getting choosier about the kinds of masks allowed on board. Cloth coverings are standard, but if it has a vent, you may not be able to wear it and therefore could be asked to leave. Both JetBlue and United Airlines have a no vent/exhalation valve policy in place. Effective August 10, JetBlue announced “a face covering or mask with a vent or exhalation valve will no longer be considered an acceptable face covering for travel on JetBlue.” And United goes a step further by telling customers that for either adults or children, a face shield won’t cut it either. “A face shield alone does not count as a face covering” the United website says.
So how long can a kid keep their cloth face mask off in flight? The better question might be: How long it takes them to eat a bag of complimentary pretzels?