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Do kids have to wear face masks on a plane?

Here's what experts recommend about children wearing face masks while traveling.

Do kids have to wear face masks on a plane?

By Samantha Rosen and Summer Hull, The Points Guy

For the first time ever, passengers on virtually every U.S. airline will be required to wear face coverings beginning this week.

Naturally, such a significant change brings with it many questions:

Do you have to wear a mask on every flight? Yes. For the whole flight? Yes, except when eating or drinking.

Even if you don’t like masks? Yes.

Where do you buy a mask? Well, we’ve got you covered — and many airlines will even provide them if you don’t have one.

But if you’re a parent with potential flights in your future, you may also be wondering if your kids will have to wear a mask during a flight. This time, the answer is pretty nuanced.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children ages 2 and up wear face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain — and this includes on a plane. The CDC does not, however, recommend face coverings for children under the age of 2, so your babies and young toddlers are exempt from the recommendation.



Airline face mask requirements for children

So, what does this all mean for children when flying across the country or beyond? There are currently no federal government or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directives regarding face masks to turn to for guidance, but here’s what the individual airlines have to say specifically regarding children and face masks.


United
Certain customers – such as those who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering, those who cannot put on or remove a face covering themselves and small children – will not be required to wear one on board.


Delta
Face coverings will be required starting in the check-in lobby and across Delta touchpoints including Delta Sky Clubs, boarding gate areas, jet bridges and on board the aircraft for the duration of the flight, except during meal service. Their use is also strongly encouraged in high-traffic areas including security lines and restrooms. People unable to keep a face covering in place, including children, are exempt.


Frontier
Beginning May 8, all Frontier customers will be required to wear a face-covering over their nose and mouth throughout their journey. This will include all ticket counters, gate areas, and on aircraft. The policy will not apply to very young children who are unable to maintain a face covering.


Hawaiian Airlines
Also starting May 8, Hawaiian says travelers will need to wear a face mask or covering that effectively covers the mouth and nose, except for young children who are unable to keep a face covering on or guests with a medical condition or disability preventing its use. This new requirement will apply from check-in at the airport to deplaning at the destination and disposable face masks will be available at check-in counters and gates for guests who may not have a face covering.



What if my airline isn’t mentioned?

Not all airlines have written exemptions for children on their sites. For example, the Spirit Airlines policy states that, starting May 11, “Guests will be required to wear face coverings when traveling with Spirit. Guests without a face covering will not be permitted to board the plane.”

American Airlines and Southwest’s policies on their respective websites also do not specifically call out mask exemptions for children.

But, don’t let that stress you out too much if you have a young child who can’t or won’t safely wear a face mask. TPG reached out to American Airlines for clarification and was told that, “some customers may be exempt due to health conditions, religious reasons and/or age. Young children who are unable to keep a face covering on are exempt from wearing one.”

Babies and small children will not be expected or required to wear a mask while in flight, though the exact cut-off of a “small child” is admittedly a bit nebulous.



How do you get your children to wear a mask on the plane?

Remember, children under 2 shouldn’t wear a mask, according to the CDC, and those who are slightly older may simply not cooperate, though there are things you can do to help your child become more comfortable with a face mask on the plane and beyond.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends (AAP) putting the mask on a favorite stuffed animal, decorating the mask or wearing masks while looking in the mirror to normalize the experience — as will seeing parents and older siblings wearing masks. Of course, simply practicing wearing a mask at home will likely help kids wear it in less familiar situations.

KidsHealth recommends giving your child time to get familiar with the mask, and using simple words to explain why people are wearing them.

Nathan Richardson, executive vice president at TPG, says to “lead by example and don’t negotiate.” It may sound a little harsh, he says, but it’s necessary.



Where to find a child-sized face

First, keep in mind that hospital-grade face masks, such as N95 respirators, remain in critically short supply, and should be reserved for travelers who are most at risk of complications from COVID-19, healthcare workers and medical first responders.

There’s still a wide variety of face masks you can choose from, though. Cloth and even DIY masks are the currently recommended solutions for use while in flight. Luckily, in the last few weeks, many retailers have started to make child-sized or child-friendly face masks.

The AAP says pleated masks with elastic are likely to work best for children, but it’s important to make sure you have the right size. While adult masks are usually 6 by 12 inches, a child-sized mask measuring 5 by 10 inches might still be too large for young children. You’ll want to find one that’s the right size for their face and adjust it to make sure it’s secure.


Disney
Your kids will no doubt love Disney’s face masks, featuring prints with their favorite characters and Disney princesses. You can preorder a four-pack for $19.99 on Disney’s website. Small masks measure about 4.5 by 2.5 inches (or 4.5 by 4.5 inches when the mask pleats are stretched).


Sweaty Bands
Retailer Sweaty Bands also has youth-sized masks in a handful of prints, such as camouflage and rainbow polka dot. They start at $17.99 each. Just keep in mind that, even though they’re youth size, they’re likely ideal for kids ages 8 and up.


Alex and Nova
Alex and Nova has adorable “Mom and Me” three-mask sets, complete with a filter pocket. They come in both pink and beige shades, featuring plaid, floral and polka dot prints. The soft cotton should be comfortable, and wearing the same mask as Mom (or Dad!) should put your kid’s mind at ease. You can buy a set for $39 ($78 for both) on Alex and Nova’s website. Youth masks are designed for kids ages 3 to 10, and measure about 4.5 by 9.8 inches.



Bottom line

While only you can make the very personal decision about when it’s the right time for your family to fly again — in conjunction with medical recommendations, relevant travel bans and quarantine restrictions, of course — you’ll want to be sure to brush up on the new inflight mask requirements before heading to the airport.

It is recommended, and perhaps even required, that older children wear masks during flight. Babies and small children who cannot safely wear a mask, however, are largely exempt from these new requirements.

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Travel Magazine: Do kids have to wear face masks on a plane?
Do kids have to wear face masks on a plane?
Here's what experts recommend about children wearing face masks while traveling.
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