On 23rd July, American Airlines outlined a new mask policy. All passengers over the age of two, no matter their medical conditions, will be forced to wear a mask throughout the flight. Only when eating or drinking, will passengers be able to move the mask. This proves that American Airlines, the biggest airline in the world, has decided that masks are essential and that their operations cannot function without them. Other airlines are soon to follow, but with so many masks on the market, it can be hard to choose the right one.

Today we will dispel some myths about masks and showcase why the FFP2 mask is the superior option.

How are masks graded?

We first begin by looking at how masks are graded and why some masks are not as good as others. Masks are categorized in the following ways:

  • Face coverings – This can be anything from a scarf to a specially designed linen mask. Whilst these are not created for medical use, some of them may be effective in minimising the spread of bacteria and viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic, by limiting the respiratory emissions of the wearer.
  • Surgical mask – A fluid-resistant mask that can protect the wearer from large droplets, splashes or sprays of hazardous liquids or bodily fluids. It also protects patients from the wearer’s respiratory emissions – hence the reason it is work by surgeons. A surgical mask is only effective for around four hours according to British Airways.
  • Respiratory mask – A tight-fitting mask that is designed to reduce the wearer’s exposure to small particles and droplets – it is far more effective in preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses than a surgical mask.

According to the FDA, the difference between a surgical mask and proper respiratory masks is:

While a surgical mask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, a face mask, by design, does not filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes, or certain medical procedures. Surgical masks also do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the mask and your face.

Thus we know that not all masks are equal, and it is up to each airline to ensure that its front-line staff are equipped with the best possible masks on the market. But did you know there is a sub-category of respiratory masks, and even then they have different effectiveness levels?

What are the FFP2 masks?

An FFP2 mask is a grade of mask that is of a better quality than the average masks that are available on the market – but it is the minimum recommended grade for airline staff use, due to its effectiveness and how long it can be worn before it needs to be replaced.

According to the US CDC (Center for Disease Control), all the respiratory masks on the market can be ranked in the following graph.

Respirator Standard Filter Capacity (removes x% of all particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter or larger)
FFP1 & P1 At least 80%
FFP2 & P2 At least 94%
N95 At least 95%
N99 & FFP3 At least 99%
P3 At least 99.95%
N100 At least 99.97%

As you can see, the FFP2 is practically the direct equivalent of the hard-to-find N95 mask, and only slightly less potent than the masks that are strictly hospital or military-grade quality. When you go any higher than the FFP2 and N95 filtration capacity, you are looking at having to wear a face-hugging respirator (or full-face version) with specialised filter cartridges. These filters are specifically designed for hazardous fumes, vapours, gases and particles (dusts and airborne microorganisms). They’re typically used in industrial workplaces and in the military – and have a high price tag per unit!

To better understand the difference between surgical masks and N95 respirators, you can also consult this infographic from the CDC.

Do you need masks for your airline?

A common question that arises when examining the cost-effectiveness of masks, is deciding if your airline needs mandatory ones onboard. After all, if we know that the FFP2 is the only effective grade of masks that you can operate, then the use of masks becomes an all-or-nothing approach.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the best ways we can slow the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a face covering. Customers and team members have been clear that they feel safer when everyone is wearing a face covering. In light of this important feedback, we are expanding and enhancing our requirements onboard and at airports.” – American Airline statement

While Eways Aviation is a leading supplier of bio-hazard security equipment to the aviation industry (and we may seem biased on this subject), you only need to see the official policy of flag carriers around the world to determine whether masks should be used by your airline staff.

As mentioned, American Airlines has taken a hard line on masks on board, making them mandatory throughout the network.

“Only customers under two years old will be exempt from the new face-covering policy. No other exemptions will be granted, even for those with verifiable medical conditions, due to the safety risk of asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission by customers without face coverings. If a customer cannot wear a face covering, they will not be able to travel on American.”

This was followed by Southwest, the biggest Boeing 737 airline in the world, barring passengers without masks from flying on their airline.

“If a customer is unable to wear a face-covering or mask for any reason, Southwest regrets that we will be unable to transport the individual,” Dallas-based Southwest Airlines said in a statement. “In those cases, we hope the customer will allow us to welcome them on board in the future, if public health guidance, or other safety-related circumstances, regarding face coverings changes.” 

Delta Air Lines, the third major US carrier next to American Airlines and United followed suit.

“You cannot board a Delta plane unless you have a mask on,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said to the today show. “If you board the plane and you insist on not wearing your mask, we will insist that you don’t fly Delta into the future. We already have over 100 people we’ve put on that list.”

Outside of the United States, many other airlines have implemented their own mask policy. Air France for example:

“For the health and safety of all, the wearing of a surgical mask is mandatory from the moment you arrive at the airport and throughout your Air France flight. Surgical masks on their own are not a guarantee against transmission. However, when combined with other personal safety measures, they provide effective protection against the virus.”

For those airlines, charter operators, or other aviation firms that are cautious about following suit, they need not have any legal concerns. While the debate for masks has recently been politicized, the evidence in their effectiveness and the legality of an airline’s authority will stand up in court.

“Airlines are private businesses and airlines have a right to have rules of their own about what you can and cannot do on their premises,” said Sharona Hoffman, a professor and public health law expert at Case Western Reserve University to the LA Times. 

In addition to this, European Union transport ministers reached an agreement on sanitary and safety measures to be taken by any aeroplanes operating in the continent. The wearing of masks will become mandatory for anyone aged 6 and over.

With more airlines and countries imposing a mandatory mask requirement for travelers, it’s safe to say that masks are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

If you need a supply of unique FFP2 masks for your firm or want to guarantee a supply of essential biosecurity items during this tough time, then get in touch with the sales team at Eways Aviation today.