Transport Canada has quietly raised the mandatory age for children wearing face masks on planes from two to six years old. The move follows at least two public instances of toddlers kicked off domestic flights for not wearing a face covering.
Back in April, Transport Canada mandated that air passengers aged two and up wear a mask when travelling, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
However, parents must still bring a mask on board for their child — even if the child is likely to reject it.
Transport Canada said that it revised its rules on Nov. 10 in response to "updated guidance" from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which followed new World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.
The WHO advises that children younger than age six not be required to wear a mask "based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance."
According to its website, WHO published its recommendations on Aug. 21 — more than two months before Transport Canada revised its rules.
In late September — 1.5 months before Transport Canada changed its regulations — CBC News reported a story about two-year-olds getting kicked off flights in both Canada and the U.S. for refusing to wear a mask.
"It's foolishness," said air passenger Aaron Munn of Holtville, N.B. He and his two-year-old son, Emmett, were turfed from a WestJet flight departing Fredericton for Toronto on Aug. 24, because Emmett refused to keep his mask on.
"Whoever made this law, give them a case of face masks and send them to a daycare and see how successful he is," said Munn following that experience. "It's unrealistic."
PHAC changes advice for masks and children
Coverage of that September incident also highlighted the WHO's recommendations from August, and noted that many Western countries mandate mask-wearing for children starting at age six or older.
At the time, PHAC recommended that children in Canada age two and older wear a mask.
"It has been demonstrated that children two years of age and older can be taught basic infection control skills … including wearing a cloth face covering," PHAC told CBC News in an email in September.
But on Nov. 3, the agency revised its guidance. It now states on its website that children ages six and up should wear a mask in situations where it's recommended, and that children between the ages of two and five "may be able to wear a mask if supervised. This will depend on their ability to tolerate it as well as put it on and take it off."
CBC News asked PHAC why it took more than two months to update its guidelines in response to WHO's recommendations.
"The evidence on non-medical masks, which includes recommendations for the ages that non-medical masks should be worn, is continually evolving," said PHAC spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau in an email.
She added that while PHAC's revised guidance is "similar" to the WHO's recommendations, it's not identical, as PHAC also draws on advice from other domestic and international organizations.
'It was so hellish'
Air passenger Safwan Choudhry said he's glad that Transport Canada revised its rules for children wearing masks on planes, because it may prevent other families from going through what he endured.
Choudhry said his family is still traumatized four months after being turfed from a Sept. 8 WestJet flight because one of his toddlers wasn't wearing a mask.
"It was so hellish and nightmarish," he said. "Just even thinking back to it, many months later, it almost sends a shiver down your spine."
WATCH | Father describes flight being cancelled over dispute about masking his child:
WestJet said it was forced to cancel the flight from Calgary to Toronto when tensions on board escalated after Choudhry and his wife refused to put a mask on their three-year-old daughter — which was mandatory at the time.
Choudhry said they had placed a mask on their three-year-old as soon as she finished eating her snack.
He argues that the dispute with WestJet actually occurred when airline staff tried to force his other daughter, a 19-month-old, to wear a mask — even though passengers under the age of two have always been exempt from mask wearing.
Choudhry said the 19-month-old started screaming when he and his wife tried to comply and place a mask over her face.
"She was crying hysterically, with the crew watching over us, until she threw up, at which point they told us you all need to get off the plane," he said shortly after.
Calgary police were called to the scene and according to a follow-up police report, "police were heckled by several other passengers who stated that it was not a police matter and that WestJet [was] in the wrong."
WestJet adamantly denies that it tried to force Choudhry's 19-month-old to wear a mask.