Tickets, passport, sunscreen, shorts and… masks? As the world opens back up, all forms of travel are booming. With covid still in wide circulation, there are ample reasons to take some sensible precautions given the variety of higher-risk environments travel can expose us to. No one wants to fall ill when travelling (or coming back) so if you’re in any doubt, here are seven reasons you will want to ensure you are taking a mask on your next trip.
1. Some Mask Mandates Remain
Although many airlines and countries have removed mask mandates, some outliers still remain. For example, not only do some airlines still require masks, but some countries require masks to be worn by all travellers on flights entering the country. So while we recommend double-checking the local regulations, it’s a safe bet always to pack your mask - this keeps you safe and lawful no matter the circumstances.
Over time, more and more mandates will be removed. However, we have no idea of knowing how long mandates will continue to last. Since mandates are here to protect us and everyone nearby, they should always be followed. For this reason, you’ll want to ensure that you are always travelling with a mask. But what about when no mandates remain? Read on because we think you’ll want to travel with a mask even post-mandates after reading this post!
2. Breakthrough Cases and Variants
Unfortunately, we still aren’t rid of COVID. At this point, we’ve been through multiple major variants and tens of minor variants. Many experts are now saying that we will never be rid of COVID. Rather, it will remain with us in the long term. While this is terrible news, the good news is that new variants of the virus will likely continue becoming less and less dangerous.
With that being said, we can’t predict with certainty what will happen with COVID. The virus will continue to mutate, and it’s impossible to know what’s coming next. With new variants being discovered every few months, masking is common sense for the foreseeable future. Since travellers are usually the key spreaders of new variants, this is a very important reason to keep wearing a mask in the future.
On top of new variants, the threat of breakthrough cases is always present. Breakthrough cases are present in individuals even 14 (or more) days after being vaccinated. So while vaccinations are our best way to reduce the number of severe COVID cases, they aren’t total protection. For the best protection, especially when travelling, masks should continue to be worn.
3. Aeroplane Cabin Air Is Not Clean
Although we are often told that the air in plane cabins is clean, this is far from the truth. Even with air filtration systems active, we are constantly breathing ‘recycled’ air when flying. This recycled air contains high carbon dioxide levels and expelled respiratory particles that can potentially contain harmful viruses and bacteria. This issue is exacerbated when considering the extremely close proximity of passengers on planes.
While it is true that cabin air is constantly cycled in flight, even these effective air filtration systems won’t protect you from the air expelled by nearby passengers. On top of this, and by far the biggest issue, is that aeroplane filtration systems don’t activate until the vehicle is airborne.
Considering that we often have to wait for thirty minutes between boarding and taking off on a perfectly scheduled flight, this begins to uncover a serious issue. To make things worse, planes often run late, and we can be stuck in the cabin for much longer before the eventual takeoff.
For the whole time that the plane is on the ground, even once the engines are turned on, air filtration systems are not active. This means that while grounded, no circulation at all is occurring, creating a very high-risk situation for all travellers aboard the flight.
With cabin air being far from clean, especially before takeoff and after landing, masks are an essential item to pack when preparing for travel. No one wants to be breathing recycled air from other passengers!
4. High-Traffic Areas Such as Airports Are High-Risk
Although we often focus on the air quality in-flight, we travellers are exposed to a range of other pollution hotspots throughout our trips. The most high-risk locations are airports, transport stations, and public transport. Since many travellers will rely on public transport throughout their trip, it’s important to pack a mask for use even after flying.
Unfortunately, the reality of travel is that many interactions have to happen. For example, when going through customs and immigration, you’ll be talking to people in close proximity. Once out of the airport, you’ll need a taxi or public transport to your hotel - another close proximity interaction. Once at the hotel? You guessed it. You’ll need to check in - yet another interaction.
The only way to effectively protect ourselves through all of these high-risk areas is by wearing a mask. Not only can COVID rapidly spread through such interactions, but air pollution is also an ever-present threat.
Locations such as bus and train stations often have harmful levels of airborne pollutants due to the prevalence of dangerous vehicle emissions. This creates a double reason to wear masks when travelling - not only can COVID and other viruses pose a threat, but so can air pollution hotspots.
5. Air Pollution Is an Ever-Present Threat
Talking about air pollution, let’s dive into a bit more detail as to why air pollution is a reason to continue wearing a mask while travelling.
Air pollution exists everywhere. With over 99% of the world’s population living in areas exceeding the WHO air pollution guidelines, we must always consider air pollution. While travelling is a great way to forget about our worries, it’s worth packing and wearing a mask wherever you plan to travel.
Now, we know that many people will be planning vacations to enjoy the outdoors - personally, I would love to go on a beach vacation! Unfortunately, while these areas are normally considered safe from harmful air pollution, this is not always the case. We’re not saying you should be wearing a mask while enjoying the beach, but rather that having a mask on hand is essential.
Even on beach vacations, there is a range of high-risk areas for air pollution that you will be exposed to. The key takeaway here is always to remember to pack a mask and check the local air quality conditions regularly, as you never know when you’ll need to protect your lungs.
If you plan on visiting highly polluted countries or large cities, this is an even more critical consideration. For example, I recommend masks to everyone wanting to visit South Korea. Why? Because the AQI can reach > 150 on some days.
We know that no one wants to be worrying about air pollution when travelling. However, having a mask on hand is great for peace of mind and allows us to have control over our exposures.
6. Experts Recommend Wearing Masks
Whether or not masks are still mandated during flight, experts agree that wearing masks while travelling is good practice, especially in flight. Even if you’re the only person wearing a snug-fitting mask in flight, you’ll receive significantly more protection.
At this point in time, this expert recommendation is nearly universal. With so many experts from fields ranging from filtration to virology recommending masks while travelling, we’d be silly not to listen!
Ideally, everyone on your flight should be wearing masks. However, we understand that this is an unrealistic expectation if mandates don’t exist. While the ‘dual layer’ of protection offered on both inhalation and exhalation provides the best protection, just wearing a mask yourself helps.
7. It’s Not All About Us
Wearing masks is not all about us. While protecting ourselves is extremely important, it’s only half of the story. Masks filter both ways, and source control is critical when it comes to preventing the spread of sicknesses.
Whilst the threat of severe illness from covid has passed for most, many elderly and immunocompromised individuals aren’t as lucky. For them, everyday situations like travelling can still present a significant risk to their health.
From a recent survey that we carried out, we found that 55% of people wear a face mask to protect others. On top of this, over 60% of the participants stated they were extremely likely to wear a mask when in close proximity to elderly or vulnerable individuals. While travelling, we never know who will be sitting next to and wearing a mask should be a common courtesy.
It’s advised that these people wear > 94% filtration, fitted masks like N95s, FFP2s, KN95s or AirPop’s Pocket and Light SE with > 97% filtering capacity when in higher-risk situations like travelling.
So, even if you don’t feel the need to wear a mask for your own good, consider taking a mask on your trip to protect others. The most effective protection comes when both you and the vulnerable individual have masks on.
8. No Need to Worry About Appearance!
Here’s a more lighthearted reason to wear a mask while travelling to end this list. Although we all love to travel, we can’t deny that travel is often exhausting and we rarely look our best. The stress of planning a trip, getting visas and customs sorted, and then spending hours on a plane is enough to get to anyone - it’s only natural to look exhausted! However, a mask can hide that exhaustion. Not only are you protecting yourself, but you can ensure that only you know how tired you are.
Although masks are no longer mandated as source control while travelling, there are many reasons to continue using some extra respiratory protection. At different stages of travel, we are exposed to high-risk areas for viruses, bacteria and fine dust. All of these can prove harmful, showing why masks continue to be essential while travelling.
We hope that mandates, even if no longer present in many areas, show the importance of mask-wearing during travel. While it’s great to have the freedom to choose whether we wear a mask or not, there are so many reasons to continue wearing masks post-mandates.
Although COVID is still the primary reason to wear masks while travelling, it’s not the only reason. This is something we really feel the need to emphasise. COVID is the reason that mask-wearing was normalised during travel, and it’s the reason that most people continue to wear masks today.
However, COVID is only one of the many reasons to wear a mask. We’ve made it one of our focuses at AirPop to educate and inform our readers about the dangers of air pollution, and that is another key reason to wear masks during travel. With many pollution hotspots present, it’s vital to ensure we have masks prepared.
Even further than air pollution and COVID, masks can protect against other sicknesses and diseases such as Influenza and MonkeyPox, which are currently making headlines.