The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have issued an update to the health safety measures for air travel, dropping the recommendation for mandatory face masks in airports and on board flights.
The news was announced in a joint statement on May 11, 2022, and the new recommendations will come into effect from May 16, 2022.
“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA’s executive director Patrick Ky said.
“For passengers and aircrews, this is a big step forward in the normalization of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby,” Ky continued.
However, the statement also noted that a face mask is still one of the best protections against the transmission of COVID-19.
The authorities warned that rules from mask wearing “will continue to vary by airline” and air carriers will still reserve the right to encourage passengers to wear masks on flights to or from “a destination where mask-wearing is still required on public transport”.
“Vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask,” the EASA and ECDC statement continued.
The EASA and the ECDC also encouraged travelers to observe the recommended social distancing measures in indoor areas, such as airports, where possible.
“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission,” Andrea Ammon, the director of the ECDC said.
“A step towards normality”
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed EASA’s guidance and announced that it would be removing its recommendation that masks should be required in-flight.
“We welcome EASA’s recommendation to relax the mask mandate, which is another important step along the road back to normality for air passengers. Travelers can look forward to freedom of choice on whether to wear a mask. And they can travel with confidence knowing that many features of the aircraft cabin, such as high frequency air exchange and high efficiency filters, make it one of the safest indoor environments,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General in a statement published on May 11, 2022.
“This important shift reflects the high levels of vaccination, natural immunity levels, and the removal of domestic restrictions in many European nations,” the statement added.
However, the statement also highlighted that while the European guidance will soon come into effect, several jurisdictions still maintain mask requirements, which “is a challenge for airlines and passengers flying between destinations with different requirements”.
“Airlines must comply with the regulations applicable to the routes they are operating. The aircraft crew will know what rules apply and it is critical that passengers follow their instructions. And we ask that all travelers be respectful of other people’s decision to voluntarily wear masks even if it not a requirement,” Walsh said.