Fabric face masks may soon be a thing of the past as more international airlines begin to show a preference for surgical-grade face masks.
Finnair, the largest airline in Finland, is the latest to update its coronavirus mask policy, announcing last week that it would no longer accept cloth face masks on board its flights.
“We accept surgical masks, FFP2 or FFP3 respirator masks without a valve or other valve free masks with the same standard (N95),” the airline announced on its Twitter account.
The airline goes into further detail on its website, saying that the reason it does not accept masks made of fabric, face shields, masks with a valve or scarves used as a mask is because “they allow air to escape and do not provide comparable protection.”
Air France, for instance, says it is mandatory to wear a surgical mask or an FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3 type mask, without an exhaust valve, on board its airplanes.
“Cloth masks and masks with exhaust valves are not authorized,” reads Air France’s website.
Air France says that a surgical mask filters at least 95 per cent of particles as small as 3 microns in size “and serves a dual purpose.”
“It obviously filters particles emitted by the mask wearer, but according to the French National Research and Safety Institute, it also protects the person wearing the mask against droplets emitted by a person facing them. The surgical mask both filters inhaled and expired air," the airline says.
The rules are a little different in Canada.
Air Canada and WestJet reference Transport Canada’s guidance on mask requirements (listed here), which states that all air travellers wear a non-medical mask made of “multiple layers of tightly-woven materials” such as cotton or linen.
Covering that are banned include masks with exhalation valves or vents, those made with mesh or lace fabric, neck gaiters, as well as scarves, bandanas and face shields (without a mask).
Air Transat outlines similar guidance.
In addition to following Transport Canada’s guidance, Sunwing directs customers to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) guidelines, which recommends non-medical masks that consist of at least 2 layers of a tightly woven fabric with options of adding a filter as a middle layer.
The US. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fabric face masks offer protection if they have multiple layers.
However: a recent study in Ontario has found that high-efficiency masks are up to six times better at filtering aerosols compared to more commonly used cloth and surgical masks.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo reviewed the effectiveness of certain masks, finding that N95 masks were able to filter out 60 per cent of exhaled aerosols, and KN95 masks could filter out 46 per cent.
Cloth masks and surgical masks, however, only filtered out 10 per cent and 12 per cent of exhaled aerosols, the study found.