European countries have adopted more judicious approaches to masking young travelers than the United States.

Anthony LaMesa
7 min readAug 23, 2021

From Ryanair to the TGV to KLM, young children can travel across Europe without masking.

While the United States CDC recommends children aged 2 and older mask just about everywhere indoors — child care, malls, schools, buses, trains, and planes — European countries have not only adopted more judicious approaches to masking in schools, but also on public transportation.

The rigid U.S. approach to masking child travelers inspired by CDC guidance — just extended through January 18, 2022 by the Transportation Security Administration for everyone aged 2 and older — has led to some heartbreaking situations on flights, such as Southwest Airlines kicking an autistic toddler off one of their planes:

“We’re getting close to the runway,” she explained. “They’re going over the security safety features and all that, and the flight attendant walks by and tells me that he has to put a mask on. So, I try to put the mask on him. He is 3 and has autism and sensory processing disorders, so he wouldn’t keep the mask on.”

That’s when she claims the flight attendant alerted the captain who asked her son to put the mask on again before returning the plane back to the gate.

“So the captain went back to the front, then he went over the loudspeaker and said that he had a non-compliant passenger that refused to wear a mask and follow the policies so they were heading back to the gate,” the mother said. “We had to head back to the gate. They have an escort take us back to the plane to get all of our luggage off the plane, and then they proceeded to write up my 3-year-old for noncompliance to their policy.”

This frustrating situation would most likely not have happened in Europe, given the ECDC and member state governments honor WHO guidance on masking children:

WHO advises that people always consult and abide by local authorities on recommended practices in their area. An international and multidisciplinary expert group brought together by WHO reviewed evidence on COVID-19 disease and transmission in children and the limited available evidence on the use of masks by children.

Based on this and other factors such as childrens’ psychosocial needs and developmental milestones, WHO and UNICEF advise the…

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