On February 1, 2021 the Center for Disease Control issued new requirements for mandatory mask wearing on all interstate transportation, including US airlines. Although most airlines already required masks, this CDC order makes masking-up a requirement for most people to fly. There are however a few exceptions.
- Children under 2
- Cases where it would create a workplace safety issue
- Passengers who cannot safely wear a mask due to a disability
That said, it’s not like you can just stroll up to the gate and declare that you are going mask-free due to your disability. Some advance preparation is required. First and foremost, contact your airline, because exemption policies will likely differ from carrier to carrier.
For example, as of February 1, 2021 American Airlines requires customers who are unable to wear a face mask due to their disability, to contact the Special Assistance department at least 72 hours in advance. Documentation from a licensed health care provider as well as a negative COVID-19 test are also required.
Some airlines may also require passengers requesting mask exemptions to:
- Request this accommodation in advance
- Check in early
- Be evaluated by the airline’s medical expert
And then there are other airlines that remain silent regarding a medical exemption from wearing face masks. Personally I would check the airline’s exemption policy before I booked a flight if I was unable to mask-up due to a disability.
It’s good that a medical exemption is now possible, but the key phrase here is “plan ahead”.