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Are N95 masks needed for long flights?

Hello folks:

I will travel to Europe from San Francisco in Sep. I have three outbound flights: one on Air Canada from SFO to Canada, then on Lufthansa from Canada to Europe, and then another Lufthansa flight within Europe. Since I will fly quite a few times, do you think that I can get by with surgical masks (plus a face shield)? Alternatively, do I need N95 masks? I have not used N95s and will need to find a place that does a fitting test for me.

Posted by
2074 posts

From www.lufthansa.com:

German federal and state legislation resulting from the resolution of
19.01.2021 requires the wearing of medical face masks.

These are face masks worn in everyday medical practice, also known as
surgical masks. They are medical products and were designed for the
protection of others.

In addition, FFP2-, KN95- or N95- standard masks are permitted. These
FFP (Filtering Face Piece) masks protect the wearer from droplets and
aerosols and serve to protect both the wearer and other people.

Posted by
9592 posts

Leave the face shield home. Lufthansa requires either a disposal surgical mask or a N95 mask. Cloth masks won't do. Many also require a change of masks either after four or eight hours.

On Air Canada you can wear a surgical mask, N95 mask or a cloth mask. Just make sure there are no valves, slits or holes.

Posted by
5172 posts

Your airline will determine what is acceptable for a mask, as guided by policies of the departure country.

Just very roughly though; cloth and handmade masks seem to be frowned upon in most European countries, the paper surgical masks seem to be ok for most countries and situations, for some venues and in close quarters in some countries (including public transportation) they are requiring N95 or the European equivalent FFP2.

Leave the face shield at home, not a substitute for a mask, the N95 mask should not have the exhale vent. The N95 masks discussed are just the disposable paper mask, not a semi-permanent mask with replaceable filters, so no fitting required.

Myself, I will have a stash of surgical masks as well as 3 to 5 N95 masks in my day bag.

Edit: Meant to add that masks are readily available in many stores, so no need to bring dozens, just an initial stock.

Posted by
3317 posts

Do you belong to Costco? They have a great selection of surgical and KN95 masks at reasonable prices. No fitting tests required. I paid $9.99 for 75 black surgical masks. (My students strongly preferred black as the "cool color")

There is also a pretty good selection available on Costco.com or on Amazon.

Face Shields are designed to protect you direct exposure from the droplets released by others. If you feel more comfortable with one, don't worry about it and wear it.

Posted by
95 posts

Try a N95 mask - for it me it was so much more comfortable than a surgical mask . Friend in the US put me onto them. They are the only thing that stops my glasses fogging up all the time.

They don't need fitting I bought mine online

Posted by
18699 posts

I found 3M N95 masks on Amazon pretty recently. They were made in China.

Posted by
489 posts

Thank you for the responses thus far.

Carol -- I am a Costco member, but I find their masks sold in Costco.com to be of a low quality and that they are made in China. I understand a lot of PPE is from China, but I am paranoid. I am also afraid of going to a physical store.

N95 masks are very hard to find. I am also reluctant to order anything (not just masks) from Amazon, because Amazon is notorious for counterfeit products. It co-mingles authentic goods and fake goods in their warehouses. It certainly knows of this issue for years but just can't care less. In fact, it probably makes higher profits from cheaper, low-end merchandise. I have received counterfeits from Amazon before. In those instances, it was very obvious to me that the products were fake and I returned them. However, for masks, there is no way to tests their authenticity if the packaging doesn't look fake. I was thinking of ordering European made masks from Amazon.de, but the same problem applies.

Posted by
1874 posts

For the person who just asked where one can purchase N95 masks in the US, I just searched Home Depot, and some of the local stores in the Nashville area have some, so likely other Home Depots (and other hardware type stores would have them, too). Check the drywall supply departments, as they have been used by the trades for decades. Both mask types: without the exhale value and the type with the valve are in stock. The type with the exhale valve are okay (and do a good job of protecting you), as long as you wear a second (disposable surgical type) compliant mask over it in order to protect others. N95s generally (key word) fit much better than other masks, and generally the 2 elastic pieces fit around your entire head (giving a better seal) vs.just loosely around your ears). But, whatever mask you get, be sure to have the adjustable metal nose piece, which is key for insuring a good fit. I would venture to say that an N-95 mask fits just about any adult...and they provide very good coverage/protection.
Despite having received two vaccines, if I were flying anywhere, muchless internationally, I would definitely wear my N-95 mask, just to protect myself on the plane with the uncertainty with the current covid variant ( and any other that may be morphing). While they are more expensive, if you wear a second lighter outer mask (which protects your inner mask), you can definitely re-use your N-95s....just let them air out overnight, etc. I can just see all the replies saying: What TWO masks!!!!! We did that before our turns came for vaccines, then relaxed a bit and just began wearing surgical ones after our second vaccines were effective, and just recently (due concern re: the variant) have returned to the two-mask routine when we must go inside (rarely) somewhere public (but our state has a low vaccine percentage..ugh).
Cheers to all that are brave enough to fly right now.
Have a safe and enjoyable trip!

Posted by
3317 posts

I do not mean this in an unkind way, but I wonder how you will feel about situations you will experience in international travel if you feel uncomfortable entering stores here in the US?

Only you can determine if this is the right time for travel and I wish you the very best.

Posted by
12314 posts

I have been traveling for 30 days now.. Please be aware that social distancing will not exist in most situations regarding transportation, air or other. And mask wearing outside will be rare, even if "outside" is a crowded elbow to elbow market or sidewalk.

Posted by
406 posts

The N-95 masks I wore as a nurse (now retired) had to be specially fit to each staff person. They were a royal blue, had 2 ear loops and a very tight fit. Not comfortable and hard to breath. The did need to be fit tested.
Either the rules have changed or these OTC N-95 masks are not what we used professionally.

The mask I wore, Delta US to NL, was a FFP2 NR.

Posted by
238 posts

I can echo what James said. Outside there is very little mask wearing (obviously depending on what the rules are for the country you’re going to). If you’re planning to eat outdoors, there is usually zero mask wearing and all the customers are packed together like sardines. I have seen almost 100% mask wearing on public transport and indoors. If anyone isn’t wearing a mask, they get reminded very loudly to put one on. And they’re very strict about it covering your nose and mouth, which is good. But just be ready for zero social distancing. None.

Posted by
349 posts

Pre Delta and as a vaccinated person I might have gone along with one of those cheaper bluish masks. But, with all I know about Delta, I would get a few good N95 or KN95 masks, take the time to get them to fit well on my face, and wear them. Delta is nasty. Not invincible, not a reason to stay at home for another year, but a good reason to take extra precautions indoors around unknown people. That's my 2¢.

Posted by
489 posts

So, I guess it's a good idea to wear a N95 and then layer a surgical mask on top. The surgical masks I have are less than 6 in x 4 in.
Therefore, they probably cannot accommodate a "duck beak" type N95, which is the only Made in USA type I can find in the web. Many N95 vendors sell at high volumes to medical offices only.

Do you have a larger sized surgical mask to recommend to me? The Costco ones are kinda small.

Posted by
3317 posts

I wore masks for my employment all last year. The recommendation at my workplace was to double mask if you had a cloth mask with a surgical mask. The recommendation for a KN95 mask was NOT to double mask. A KN95 mask is most effective when it is not double masked according to our state recommendations.

I realize that this is a challenge when you receive different recommendations or suggestions, but I thought I would let you know what the policy was from the health dept.

Posted by
47 posts

Barkinpark, you may want to check out www.masks4canada.com which lists Health Canada approved sources of medical and N95 masks. Hopefully whichever you choose ships to the US.

Having worked in health care for 30+ years I was regularly fitted for my N95 mask. The reality is now for the general public, even though you can’t be fitted for the N95 mask in that way, it is a superior alternative to the blue masks. In general you will get a tighter fit which is what will give you better protection. The NYT has had articles about this (look up Linsey Marr’s research in protection against aerosol transmission).

When I next get on a plane or a train, I will wear an N95 mask. I will use the medical ones if I am in and out of a store for example.

Posted by
8198 posts

I just ordered some 3M Aura N95 masks from Amazon. They are supposed to not fog up your glasses (I'll believe that when I see it) and are listed as being made in the US. According to some news stories some 3M products are made in the US, some in China so you have to check each product.

I also have some old N95s that I got in 2018 when the smoke wildland fires were so bad here in N. Idaho. They are the round shaped ones and fit very tightly so if I need to I'll wear them on the plane if it doesn't feel like the new ones give as good a seal.

Posted by
5880 posts

I just saw some N95s at my local Home Depot, so I think they are no longer rare. I gave them a thorough look and they appear to be legit. I have seen some fakes at other places. I think KN95 is just as good, as long as they're not fake either. They seem to be more available here because I dont think medical care providers can use them.

Posted by
2758 posts

My husband works in health care and purchases N95 masks regularly. He says the ones from China are fine as long as they have the NIOSH certification. He orders them from AcuMed. Although he is fully vaccinated with Moderna, he plans to wear N95s on planes.

EDITED: I'm thinking that wearing an N95 or KN95 everywhere you go indoors or in crowds would greatly reduce your chances of testing positive and not being able to go back to US.

Posted by
14267 posts

I am possibly way off base but it has been my understanding from the beginning that your mask is meant to keep other people safe from you and does not do all that much to protect you from other people (i.e., aerosol droplets exhaled by them).

In the last two months I took multiple flights, both domestic and international, ranging from an hour or so on the plane to 12+ hours onboard. First, there is no such thing as social distancing, even in airports. A relatively small, but hardly insignificant, percentage of people improperly wear their masks. On every flight I was on, some food and beverages were distributed. On the 4 international flights, full meals were served. Every time, all passengers removed their masks at the same time to eat and drink and many conversed with each other all the while. Many airlines tout that their air systems filter and renew the air every few minutes. I don't know if that's true when the engines are shut off for that 15-45minutes when boarding and disembarking.

Posted by
2758 posts

Chani, you are correct about masks protecting others from you except N95 and KN95 which do protect the wearer.

Posted by
489 posts

Thank you, folks.

I will load up on N95 masks that are made in USA. I have also purchased some alcohol wipes (made in USA, of course) for the plane ride.

Posted by
444 posts

Caveat emptor re N95 masks made in China: the ones we bought are apparently sized for waaay smaller heads than ours, & required significantly extending the elastic bands. The package isn't labeled for children, so presumably they're adult-intended. Very glad we tried them on before getting to the airport.

Posted by
122 posts

Thankfully most airlines are providing some disinfecting wipes, but it is definitely a good idea to bring your own. And remember that N95s are FFP2s in much of Europe, and they are readily available. But my experience was that surgical masks (also readily available here) are sufficient, and in many cases even the cloth masks are acceptable. I find the surgical more comfortable than the FFPs. My flight was on KLM and Delta.

I would check with the individual airlines.

Posted by
489 posts

I just called my local work safety place (they do mask fitting tests) about N95 masks. Here are my notes to share with you:

  1. If they are made in USA, then they should be ok.
  2. If they are KN95s (not made in China), then they are usually ok.
  3. If they are made in China, then they fail the leak test about half the time.

USA-made N95s are $$$ and hard to find. But they seem to protect us better. Also, one major difference between N95s and EU's ffp2's is that ear loops are NOT acceptable for N95s, but ok for ffp2's.

Posted by
8198 posts

"USA-made N95s are $$$ and hard to find."

I'm not sure they are so hard to find any more. Upthread I mentioned I ordered the US made 3M Aura N95. They were 3 masks for $9.82. They also have these masks at my local Home Depot in a 10-pack for $20.47. One of the masks, when taken out of the plastic overwrap had a slight chemical smell. I left it to air for a day and it is fine. I opened another one today and it did not smell at all.

I've worn these masks for a bit over the last week. I wore it to the RS Meetup last Saturday and have worn it grocery shopping and to run errands. They feel fairly comfortable. There is a tight fit around my face and under my chin. There is still fogging of my glasses as when I get it tight enough not to fog I can't breathe well out of my nose. I believe this is a function of how my face is built, lol rather than being a problem with the mask. The more I wear it the better I become at adjusting it so there is no airleak. The bands are stapled on and the staple feels a little rough. When I am in a situation where I have to have them on for an extended period, I'll put a piece of duct tape over the staple to protect my face a bit.

It's also smoky as heck here today with an AQI of 198 earlier today so this helped when outside doing unavoidable activities earlier today.

Posted by
489 posts

Thanks, Pam. Did you get a mask fitting test? There is only one local place that does it for me, and the cost is $65. That's the cost of 35 N95s.

Posted by
8198 posts

I had fit tests done yearly before I retired when I worked in a hospital. I believe that is unnecessary for these masks as they do fit my face well and I am not in a role as a caregiver when you are basically in someone's face for long periods of time.

Posted by
24 posts

This summer I had a couple Lufthansa flights to/from Europe. I boarded one flight wearing a cloth mask & they asked that I switch to (& provided me with) a surgical mask. I had bought a pack of K95s on Amazon b/c I read they were required in some European airports, but that didn't seem to be enforced. If you want K95s, remember to check CDC site for certified brands. (Some brands are not true K95 certified.)

Posted by
544 posts

I have Kimberly Clark N95 pouch-style masks. They are NIOSH approved and made in the U.S. They are also latex free and are much more comfortable for long periods of time. They make you look like a duck, but I would rather be safe and comfortable than fashionable. I got them on Amazon from the Kimberly-Clark/Kimtech (Kimberly Clark division) store. So I don't think they are fraudulent. They were $45 for 50 masks.

Posted by
489 posts

Thanks again. I have ordered two brands of N95s made in USA. Both are the "duck beak" type. I will try them on before I leave to see which ones to use. I did not buy them from Amazon and so they are more $$$.

I will likely buy some ffp2's in the EU to try. I also learned that fake goods also exist in Amazon.de in Germany.

Posted by
4282 posts

Just flew on Austrian yesterday from ORD to VIE. We all wore cloth masks as did nearly everyone on our flight. We have the ones from Old Navy.

No one had on a face shield (massive overkill) and I didn't see anyone with a N95 (or FFP2 as it is called in Europe) nor did I see anyone doubling up.

I would add that the flight attendants were also handing out surgical masks for free as we boarded the plane in case anyone needed one. They were also available for free throughout the duration of the flight.