You still probably have to wear a mask while traveling

Most forms of public transportation in the US, including trains, buses, and ride-shares, are still requiring masks despite the CDC relaxing indoor regulations.
Focused black woman in mask reading newspaper in new york city subway train
Regardless of vaccination status, most forms of public transit are still requiring masks. Ono Kosuki/Pexels

On February 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its COVID-19 community spread level criteria and its mask guidelines. The changes have allowed 70 percent of Americans to go unmasked indoors, in theory. However, this does not apply to the vast majority of public transportation, even in areas where general indoor mask mandates are lifted.

Except for public and private school transportation and open-air transport, masks are still required on all forms of public transportation, including taxis and ride-shares. This applies to all public transportation arriving in, traveling within, and leaving the United States (until it arrives at an international destination). It also requires masks in all indoor transportation hubs. People who are fully vaccinated are not exempt from any of these masking mandates. 

“Traveling on public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by bringing people in close contact with others, often for prolonged periods, and exposing them to frequently touched surfaces,” the CDC states on its website. “Wearing masks that completely cover the mouth and nose reduces the spread of COVID-19.”

Here’s the latest rundown of CDC guidelines of when and where you need to mask up to while you travel.

School transport

Under the February 25 update, the CDC doesn’t require children to wear masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems. This includes early care and pre-kindergarten education like day care. The change is meant to be consistent with the CDC’s updated recommendations for masking in K-12 schools, which dictates that universal masking is no longer required in those schools with low to medium community levels. However, school systems could independently choose to continue mask requirements on buses and vans, so make sure to check your kids’ school policies. 

Air travel

The CDC still requires masks on airplanes arriving, traveling within, or leaving in the US. It also continues to require masking inside all airports. The CDC website states that masks are important in reducing the spread of COVID-19, specifically pointing out that it’s impossible to maintain social distancing while walking down tight aisles of airplanes. 

[Related: Why aren’t daycares testing kids for COVID?]

Trains, subways, buses, and more

Masks should be worn on trains, subways, and buses—even if they aren’t required in other indoor settings in your area. The CDC also requires covering up in transportation hubs like bus terminals and train stations. However, it does not enforce masking in open-air areas of vehicles, train cars, or transportation hubs. This might include the uncovered top deck of sightseeing buses, station parking lots, and outdoor subway or railway platforms. Similarly, passengers are still required to wear masks while riding on trolleys and cable cars, unless they are open-air. 

Taxis and ride-shares

The CDC is still making mask wearing mandatory while riding in taxis or ride-shares such as Uber and Lyft. These rules also apply to rides in private vehicles—the CDC still considers them a form of public transportation. Uber and Lyft continue to enforce masking requirements, referencing CDC guidelines.

Ferries and other maritime transportation

You still need to mask up on indoor areas of ferries and other forms of maritime transportation. This includes commercial maritime vessels, such as cargo ships, fishing vessels, and research vessels. All forms of passenger carrying vessels including ferries, river cruise ships, and those chartered for fishing trips, also fall under the rule, according to the CDC

This applies to all maritime transportation coming into, traveling within, and leaving the US.  It also requires masking in indoor areas of maritime transportation hubs, such as ferry terminals. However, masks are not required in outdoor or open-air areas of maritime transportation, like the open deck of a ferry, or in outdoor areas of docks and landings. 

The CDC does have different guidelines for cruise ships which can be found here.