The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have announced an update to air travel health safety measures, removing the suggestion for required face masks in airports and on flights.
On May 11, 2022, the news was revealed in a joint statement, and the new guidelines would take effect on 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, according to the statement, using a face mask is still one of the best ways to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
The authorities noted that mask-wearing policies “will continue to differ by airline,” and that airlines will retain the ability to encourage customers to wear masks on flights to or from “a destination where mask-wearing is still required on public transportation.”
“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 urged travelers to use recommended social distancing measures indoors, such as airports, whenever 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.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) applauded EASA’s decision and declared that it will no longer suggest that passengers wear masks while flying.
“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 the 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.
While the European guidance will shortly take effect, numerous jurisdictions still have mask regulations, which “creates a barrier for airlines and customers flying between destinations with different standards,” according to the statement.
“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.