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Taking the Kids: What the end of mask mandates on planes mean for families

Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

Families flying with small children are rightly confused over this week’s lifting of the federal transportation COVID-19 masking mandate.

A Florida federal judge ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public transportation mask mandate was beyond the scope of the agency’s power. This means that most people in airplanes, airports, buses and more no longer will be required to mask up. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it no longer will enforce the travel mask mandate. So did many airports and most airlines. And Uber will no longer require riders or drivers to wear masks.

The Biden administration has since appealed the decision striking down the mask mandate on public transportation after the CDC weighed in, saying masks were “necessary” to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19. Meanwhile, travelers have been left confused.

However, major airlines immediately announced masks no longer would be required on domestic flights and in U.S. airports. However, if passengers are traveling overseas, they will have to follow the rules in that country. Air France and Lufthansa still require masks; British Airways and KLM say it depends on where you are traveling. As these requirements can change rapidly, it’s prudent to check right before you travel and to keep a mask handy.

This is welcome news for many but not so much for those whose children are too young to be vaccinated, may be immune compromised, or are visiting elderly relatives with underlying conditions that could make a COVID-19 infection very serious.

What’s a family to do? One option would be to keep masking up everyone in the family with high-quality masks when flying. It’s also a good practice to keep masks handy in case you are confined in an airplane seat near someone who is coughing or sniffling — symptoms not only of COVID-19 but other possible infections. Going forward, families should consider masks as an essential part of any travel first-aid kit.


“If there is a choice, traveling by road is preferable if there are children too young to be immunized,” said Dr. Mobeen H. Rathore, professor and associate chair, Department of Pediatrics, University of Florida, and an expert in pediatric infectious disease.

That’s doable even for those going on a cruise. With some two dozen cruise ports, a growing number of guests now are opting to drive to their ship, said Roger Frizzell, chief spokesman for Carnival Corporation. In fact, according to new research from, 35 percent say departure port is a top consideration for their next cruise and they’re looking to drive-to cruise ports rather than flying.

“I still encourage people to wear masks if they are not immunized or are at increased risk for coronavirus infection, especially increased risk of mortality if they get COVID,” said Dr. Rathore. “Kids too young to be immunized should wear a mask and those around them should be immunized and wear masks … we know that vaccines are safe and effective.”

This news comes just as AAA urges travelers to book now for Memorial Day, the official start of summer vacation season, as AAA booking data shows that reservations for flights, rental cars, cruises and hotels are up 122 percent from last year.


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