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National Transportation Face Mask Mandate Takes Effect Feb. 2 – Here’s What it Means for You

Flyers at airport wearing face masks

Empowered by the president’s executive order on face mask usage, the Centers for Disease Control issued an order requiring everyone to wear a face covering aboard all public transportation options and inside travel terminals. Those who refuse could face civil penalties, enforced by the Transportation Security Administration.

Although every U.S.-based airline and most airports already require face coverings to enter terminals and aircraft, a new rule by the Centers for Disease Control is making it official until the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end. Starting Feb. 1, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, the new rule mandates face covering usage for “all passengers on public conveyances…traveling into, within, or out of the United States.”

Where Does the New Rule Come From?

The new rule is in direct response to an executive order signed by president Joe Biden, the fulfillment of one of his campaign promises. Under the order, the White House tasked the Transportation Department, including the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Transportation Security Administration to “immediately take action, to the extent appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to require masks to be worn in compliance with CDC guidelines.” This includes airports, commercial aircraft, trains, intercity busses and all other forms of public transportation.

To that extent, the CDC issued a 11-page rule on wearing face masks when traveling on public forms of transportation and inside transportation hubs. The rule will go in perpetuity until the CDC declares the pandemic to come to an end.

What Defines a “Face Mask”

According to CDC guidelines, a face mask must meet several attributes to be considered acceptable. They include:

  • Completely covering the nose and mouth
  • Made of two (or more) layers of a tightly-woven breathable fabric
  • Secured to the back of the head with ties, ear loops, or elastic bands. Gaiters may also count, but they must have two layers.
  • Masks must fit snugly but comfortably against the face, and not have any slits, exhalation valves or punctures.

Under the rules, while a face shield can also be worn, they cannot replace a face covering. In addition, shirt or sweater collars, or other make-shift masks made from scarves, ski masks, balaclavas or bandannas are also disqualified. The entire list can be found on the CDC website.

Who is Subject to the Order?

According to the text of the CDC rule, nearly all adults or children over two years old must submit to the face covering rule. The only exceptions are for children under two, those with a disability “who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” or those “for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty” as determined by federal regulations or workplace safety guidelines.

Although the CDC has not yet provided guidance on disabilities, some airlines have already applied a standard to determine compliance. In 2020, Delta Air Lines created their “Cleared to Fly” protocol, where those with a disability can meet with a doctor via telemedicine, to determine if their situation precludes them from wearing a mask.

Who is in Charge of Enforcing the Face Mask Mandate?

For airports, the federal face mask mandate will be enforced by the TSA. Starting Feb. 2, 2021, the TSA will require all passengers to wear face masks at checkpoints and throughout the airport. While the CDC orders are indefinite, the TSA face mask rule will run through May 11, 2021.

If the flyer comes to the checkpoint without a face mask, they will be asked to wear one to proceed. If they refuse to wear a face mask, they will not be allowed into the secure area. The TSA warns: “failure to comply with the mask requirement can result in civil penalties.”

What Happens if I Don’t Wear a Face Mask Aboard an Aircraft?

Both the CDC and TSA rules note that those who do not wear a face mask are subject to civil penalties, as well as other actions from their carriers. This includes being denied entry, boarding, or continued transport.

Since the summer of 2020, airlines have instituted rules requiring flyers to wear face coverings aboard their flights. Refusal to participate can result in the cancellation of their trip in progress and being placed on an internal “do not fly” list. To date, airlines have banned over 2,700 flyers for face mask rule noncompliance.

EdV February 10, 2021

jlflyer - yes, if you want to think of it as being DOUBLE required sure. It still makes it formal and documented as opposed to relying on airlines to implement. And now beyond just being kicked off flights, denied boarding, etc there are also possible fines to go with that. In addition this applies to all public transit so trains and buses across the country where they maybe weren't already required. This is a good thing.

MRM February 10, 2021

The whining is exquisite here about mask-wearing - so delicious yet such a sad head-shaking time.

jlflyer February 3, 2021

"It’s not pure political. Airlines now have the backing of the federal government in enforcing mask mandates. Airlines have been begging the government to do this." Yeah, because now you are DOUBLE required to wear a mask. I mean, without that Federal backing, you were only SINGLE required to wear it, resulting in everyone wearing it. Now, the result will be everyone wearing it. It's it great?

SUPERTRAVEL February 3, 2021

It's not pure political. Airlines now have the backing of the federal government in enforcing mask mandates. Airlines have been begging the government to do this.

weero February 3, 2021

Doesn't make this worse than the status quo? Today, there are no exceptions to wearing a mask other than being <2 years old. Now you and your doctor just need to agree that you are medically unfit to wear a mask and then the safety of others doesn't matter anymore. This reads like a huge step backward.