Most snowbirds who plan to fly to their winter destination are already aware that masks are mandatory when flying. However, what you may not know is that airlines have strict guidelines as to what type of face covering is accepted and these rules are evolving.
Recently, several airlines have stated they will no longer accept cloth face masks and cloth face coverings such as bandanas, scarves, ski masks and balaclavas.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, a handful of airlines, mostly in Europe, have banned cloth face coverings in favor of higher-standard versions including surgical masks or respirators.
Similarly, several U.S. airlines no longer permit cloth face coverings. These include Delta, American Airlines, Southwest and United.
We recommend you check the airline website of the airline(s) you are travelling with close to your date of departure for the most up-to-date information.
Since most Canadian snowbirds will likely be travelling with Air Canada or WestJet, here are their face mask policies as of Sept. 9, 2021, as stated on their websites. While Canadian airlines have not banned cloth face masks at this time, snowbirds and other travellers should check back frequently before their flights to avoid being caught off guard at the airport, as this may change in the future:
For all flights (except for travel to and from the U.S.) and all passengers over the age of 6, the use of approved face coverings is a mandatory requirement issued by Transport Canada. Children older than 2 but less than 6 years of age who cannot tolerate wearing a face covering are exempt, provided the adult responsible ensures a face covering is readily available to the child prior to boarding the flight.
For travel to and from the U.S., any passenger 2 years of age and older must wear a face covering as a requirement issued by the U.S. Transportation of Security Administration, unless exempted for medical reasons.
Approved face coverings
Approved face coverings are made with protective layers of absorbent fabric (such as cotton) that fit snugly over the nose, mouth and chin, and are secured to the face with ties or ear loops.
Any time an Air Canada agent or crew member asks you to remove your face covering (such as for an ID check) remember to untie or unhook the loop from your ear to avoid touching the face covering.
Prohibited face coverings
The following are not permitted: Non-medical masks or face coverings with an exhalation valve or vent, or made with mesh or lace fabric, a neck gaiter, a bandana, or a plastic face shield/covering.
All passengers who are not compliant with the face covering requirements will be reported to Transport Canada, which could result in a financial penalty.
You may be exempt from wearing a face covering if the following 3 conditions are met:
- You have a valid medical certificate confirming that there is a medical reason preventing you from wearing a face covering during your travel.
- You have received authorization from Air Canada for a face mask exemption. Please contact the Air Canada Medical Assistance Desk to obtain authorization.
- You will also need to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours from departure at the airport check-in and/or prior to boarding the flight. Note: you may need another test prior to departure if your return trip exceeds 72h from the time your test was taken.
Air Canada’s face covering policies can also be found here on the Air Canada website.
Guests travelling to/from the United States
United States Federal Law requires that guests two years of age and older must wear a non-medical mask or face covering to cover their nose, mouth and chin during travel. Failure to comply will result in denial of boarding, removal from the aircraft, and/or penalties under United States Federal Law.
Acceptable conditions to remove the mask:
- ID check during boarding
- eating or drinking on board for no more than 15 minutes
- communicating with someone hard of hearing
- using oxygen
- a guest is unconscious
- Children under two
- Persons having trouble breathing
- Persons with disabilities
Guests travelling within/from Canada
Transport Canada requires that all guests, six years of age or older, have a non-medical mask or face covering to cover their nose, mouth and chin during travel. Children ages two to five are encouraged to wear a mask at all times. If a child is unable to tolerate wearing a mask, it is not mandatory, but their guardian must have a mask readily available to the child prior to the boarding process. Children under two are not required to wear a mask.
See Transport Canada’s guidance on acceptable masks and face coverings.
General guidelines for currently approved masks:
- a surgical mask or cloth mask that is made of multiple layers of tightly woven material (such as cotton or linen) and is secured to the head with ties or ear loops. This includes “no-sew masks” that are made using a folded scarf, bandana or piece of material and secured using elastic, hair ties or fabric ties.
- a face covering associated with religious garments, providing they cover the nose and mouth and are made of at least two layers of tightly woven fabric
- a face covering with a front clear plastic panel for lip reading if the entire mask is not made of plastic or other non-breathable material
General guidelines for masks that are currently not approved:
- contains exhalation valves (including N95 masks with exhalation valves)
- does not attach around the ears or head with loops (e.g. neck gaiter or neck warmer)
- masks made completely of plastic or other non-breathable materials (e.g. gas masks and painter’s masks)
- anything exclusively made of materials that can easily fall apart (e.g. tissue, paper towel)
- bandanas or scarves that are not folded and secured into the “no-sew” style.
When travelling by air, guests will be required to cover their mouth and nose:
- at Canadian airport screening checkpoints
- while boarding their flight
- at all times during the flight
- when instructed to by a crew member
Guests may momentarily remove their mask if they are actively eating or drinking.
Many Canadian airports have made masks mandatory in all public spaces. Please check your airport's requirements before departing.
Zero tolerance mask policy
To support Transport Canada mask requirements guests who do not comply will face penalties including denied boarding and suspension of travel on any WestJet Group aircraft for up to one year. The WestJet Group includes WestJet, WestJet Encore, WestJet Link and Swoop.
Non-compliance will be managed through a three-step process:
- Guests will first be asked to put the mask on in a discussion with cabin crew.
- A warning (yellow card) that masks are required, and compliance is necessary.
- A note from the captain and notification that non-compliance will result in follow up notification that they will be placed on a no-fly list for 12 months.
Transport Canada requires that guests who are unable to wear a face mask due to a medical condition, must present an official medical note from a physician, nurse practitioner, dentist, or physician assistant specifying this exception or they will be denied boarding.
Medical certificates must be issued by one of the above professionals only. There are many different types of medical professionals; however, only those listed may issue a valid medical certificate. In addition, medical certificates must:
- be on official letterhead
- be dated
- clearly state the guest’s name and that they have a medical condition which prevents them from wearing a face mask
- be the original certificate
Mask exemption cards will not be accepted as a form of medical exemption.
WestJet’s face covering policies can also be found here on the WestJet website.