Fabric masks will be banned from certain airlines—here’s how to prepare

Before traveling, be sure to check your airline’s mask policy as some have been updated

Volunteer medical workers and firemen sit in their plane with masks prior to flying to French overseas department of Martinique and Guadeloupe amid the Covid-19 pandemic, at the Orly airport in Orly, near Paris, on August 20, 2021.
(Image credit: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Most public transportation—including airlines—still requires people to wear a face mask while traveling. 

As COVID-19 cases start to rise in certain areas, some major airlines have now begun banning fabric face coverings onboard.

Finnair is the latest airline to ban fabric face coverings from its flights. Any passengers looking to travel with the airline must wear “surgical masks, FFP2 or FFP3 respirator masks without a valve or other valve-free masks with the same standard (N95),” according to a tweet by the airline.

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The reasoning behind the change in policy has to do with the amount of protection fabric masks provide compared to a N95 surgical mask.

“The safety of our customers and employees is our first priority. Fabric masks are slightly less efficient at protecting people from infection than surgical masks," Finnair said in a statement (opens in new tab).

Finnair joins an increasing number of airlines that have begun banning fabric face masks onboard, including Air France and Lufthansa.

“It is mandatory to wear a surgical mask or an FFP1, FFP2, or FFP3 type mask, without an exhaust valve, on board,” wrote Air France in a statement (opens in new tab). Cloth mask is also listed under “unauthorized masks” along with “masks with exhaust valves.”

Masks permitted on most flights

Surgical masks: these masks feature an absorbent material that helps protect and prevent the spread of saliva particles. Since it's also typically made with three-layers of material, air can properly be filtered as you inhale and exhale.

TCP Global Salon World Safety Sealed Dispenser Box of 50 Face Masks, $13.99 (opens in new tab) (Soyes £4.99 (opens in new tab)) | Amazon

These disposable masks are made with three layers of ply-protective material for a more absorbent and comfortable fit.

N95 masks: This style usually has around five-layers of protection to filter the air you're breathing. These also are made with non-woven fabrics and instead use a polypropylene material to filter air.

Yukio KN95 Face Masks, $29.99 (opens in new tab) (FiGoal £8.66 (opens in new tab)) | Amazon

Travel safely using a mask designed with two layers of non-woven fabric, two layers of melt-blown cloth, and one layer of hot air cotton.

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In the US several domestic airlines have also started banning face cloths on flights, such as bandanas and scarves. Delta Airlines (opens in new tab) lists bandanas, scarves, masks with exhaust valves, and any masks with slits, punctures, or holes as prohibited masks. 

United Airlines also prohibits bandanas as well as face shields, which, “alone does not count as a face covering,” according to a statement (opens in new tab) by the airline.

While a cloth mask may be allowed, other domestic airlines including American Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, and Hawaiian Airlines have banned masks such as balaclavas, bandanas, exhaust valves, scarves, and gaiters. Depending on the airline you’re flying with will determine what is acceptable on board.

Masks no longer allowed on most airlines

Cloth masks: Masks made from fabric like cotton and silk are considered cloth masks. Most fashion and statement masks do not use the same material as surgical and N95 masks, which help filter the air you breathe in and exhale out. 

best reusable face masks, Boden Non-Medical Face Coverings

(Image credit: Boden)

Neck gaiters and bandanas: Neck gaiters and bandanas are also unacceptable on most airlines as they do not supply enough filtration. Surgical and N95 masks help prevent the spread of saliva particles through the air, whereas a  neck gaiter and bandana typically have thin cotton or spandex-like material.

Rylee is a U.S. news writer who previously worked for woman&home and My Imperfect Life covering lifestyle, celebrity, and fashion news. Before joining woman&home and My Imperfect Life, Rylee studied journalism at Hofstra University where she explored her interests in world politics and magazine writing. From there, she dabbled in freelance writing covering fashion and beauty e-commerce for outlets such as the TODAY show, American Spa Magazine, First for Women, and Woman’s World.