More international airlines are banning cloth masks on flights in favour of medical and surgical masks

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Frenchbee flight attendant wearing a surgical mask onboard
  • International airlines are starting to require passengers to wear surgical masks over medical masks onboard.
  • According to one study, surgical masks "offer substantially higher filtration efficiencies".
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More international airlines are starting to require surgical masks over cloth masks.

In August, Finland national carrier Finnair became the latest airline to require passengers to wear surgical masks on board, joining Lufthansa, Frenchbee, Air France, LATAM, Swiss, and Croatia Airlines.

Finnair said on its website: "Please note that we do not accept masks made of fabric, face shields, masks with a valve or scarves used as a mask, as they allow air to escape and do not provide comparable protection."

Acceptable masks are surgical, valveless FFP2 or FFP3, N95, or equivalent, according to the airline.

A study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Canada and published in the Physics of Fluids journal determined medical-grade N95 and equivalent masks better protect against Covid-19.

While some international carriers are mandating surgical masks, no US airline has implemented the policy, and the CDC has not banned cloth masks in its mask guidance. According to the agency, cloth masks are acceptable as long as they are double-layered, tightly woven without punctures or holes, and fit snugly around the face.

However, some carriers do ban certain types of face coverings, like scarves or masks with vents or valves. For example, Delta, Spirit, Hawaiian, Frontier, United, and American do not allow bandanas to be used in lieu of a double-layered face covering or surgical mask, according to each company's policy.

Getting passengers to comply with face mask requirements has been a challenge for airlines since the start of the pandemic, which has led some carriers to ban customers who do not comply. Last week, two JetBlue passengers caused chaos on a flight when they refused to mask up, forcing the airline to ban them from flying the carrier again.

In the US, the choice between wearing a medical-grade, surgical, or cloth mask is ultimately up to the traveler, though research suggests transmission on aircraft is rare. Last Wednesday, a published peer-reviewed study conducted by Delta Air Lines revealed the risk of Covid-19 transmission on aircraft where all passengers test negative within 72 hours is less than 0.1%.

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