Americans divided over in-flight face masks

Story Highlights

  • Americans are divided on whether the government should require masks on planes
  • 60% would always choose to wear a face mask even if it is not legally mandated
  • Democrats most likely, Republicans least likely to wear masks

WASHINGTON, DC — Americans are roughly evenly split on whether the government should require passengers to wear face masks when flying on an airplane. While 49% of American adults say the federal government should require all travelers age 2 and older to wear a mask, 51% think it shouldn’t be mandatory.

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These latest findings come from Gallup’s COVID-19 tracking survey conducted from April 25 to May 2, after a federal judge struck down the nation’s mask mandate for airplanes and public transportation.

The Biden administration appealed the decision that overturned the transportation mask requirement, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend mask-wearing on public transportation. The mandate, put in place by the CDC shortly after President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, was controversial and has been a factor in numerous incidents involving unruly passengers on planes.

Americans’ views on mandating masks on airplanes are politically polarized, with 81% of Democrats, 40% of independents and 13% of Republicans supporting a requirement. This discrepancy in supporter opinions is consistent with previous findings on mask use.

three out of five Americans still choose to mask

Although the country is split on whether masks should be mandatory on planes, a majority of Americans (60%) say if given the choice, they would choose to wear a face mask if traveling by plane in the next few days. Forty percent say they would choose to go mask-free.

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Party identification is the single most important factor in the propensity of American adults to wear a mask on a flight. Ninety percent of Democrats and 54% of independents say they would, but only 22% of Republicans say the same.

Likewise, certain demographic subgroups that generally align with the Democratic Party — including people of color, women and young adults — are more likely than their counterparts to say they would mask up on a plane. Women (67%) are significantly more likely than men (52%) to say so.

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Young adults, those aged 18-44, are the most likely age group (65%) to say they would choose to wear a face mask. Six in 10 adults aged 65 and over would choose to wear a mask, while those aged 45 to 64 are the least likely (53%) to say they would.

Conclusion

As the summer months approach and Americans go on vacation, more are likely to find themselves on a flight and will have to decide for themselves whether they and their families will choose to be masked.

While the CDC continues to encourage — but not require — air travelers to wear face coverings, Americans are divided on whether masks should still be required for travelers age 2 and older. Asked about their own behavior, a majority of Americans tell Gallup they plan to wear a mask if they find themselves on a flight in the coming days. Democrats, people of color, women and young adults are the groups most likely to say they would always choose to wear a mask.

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