- Mask requirements on planes became a commonality across the globe after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- With COVID cases on the decline, some European airlines have dropped the mask mandate on some routes.
- Masks are still mandatory on US airlines and planes headed to and from the US until at least May 3.
Shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, mask-wearing became the new reality for most people across the globe. For nearly two years, most everyday activities, like dining out and grocery shopping, required masks, even for those that are fully vaccinated.
However, the past few months have shown a decline in COVID cases, and many places around the world are dropping the mask mandate altogether. Despite the relaxed policies, many countries, like France and Germany, still require face coverings to be worn on public transportation, including on aircraft and in airports, according to data provider World Population Reviews.
Because of the mandate, airlines have had to comply with and enforce mask rules. While a lot of people embraced the new norm, many did not take it in stride, leading to a stark uptick in unruly passenger cases, particularly in the US.
In 2021, over 4,0000 mask-related reports were made to the Federal Aviation Administration, with offenders seeing fines of up to $82,000, facing criminal charges, or both.
The mask mandate on public transportation was implemented in January 2021 by President Joe Biden and the policy was set to expire on March 18 but was extended to April 18, frustrating travelers and surprising some analysts.
Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider in March that he is concerned about the “uneven set of policies” that makes “airlines and airports look like the bad guys.”
“It also puts workers in an uncomfortable position because the second you step out of that airport terminal, you are probably going to be in a community where mask-wearing is no longer required,” he said.
As COVID continues to recede and countries end mask requirements, some executives are calling on the Biden Administration to end the federal mandate in the US come April 18.
“It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools, and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do,” executives from the US’ largest carriers said in a March 23 letter to Biden.
However, on Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the mandate until May 3, reported CNN.
“Since early April, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of cases in the US,” a Biden Administration official told CNN. “In order to assess the potential impact, the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, CDC is recommending that TSA extend the security directive to enforce mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for 15 days, through May 3, 2022.”
While the mandate remains in effect on aircraft in the US, there are several airlines in Europe that have dropped mask-wearing on many routes. However, some of the British carriers have been facing staffing shortages as a result of the dropped mask mandate, forcing them to cancel hundreds of flights.
According to data provided from Cirium to CBS MoneyWatch, EasyJet canceled 202 flights departing the UK between March 28 and April 3, compared to zero canceled during the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, BA canceled 393.
An EasyJet spokesperson told CBS that “higher than usual staff sickness levels” contributed to the increase in cancellations. However, a BA spokesperson said only a small number of canceled flights were COVID-related.
“There is risk we may see some of that in North America and it’s all dependent on case rates,” Rob Morris, head of airline analytics company Ascend by Cirium, said. “But it will be relatively short-term because airlines will adjust their capacity to manage demand and protect their network integrity.”
Here are the airlines that no longer require masks on aircraft.
Following the removal of the mask mandate in England and Wales, British Airways updated its mask policy to be optional on flights where the destination does not require them. However, the airline still requires face coverings for places where the company has not been able to “clarify the local restrictions.”
Similar to BA, London-based EasyJet has ended the mask requirement on flights where the origin and destination do not require them. Specifically, people on flights between England, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Isle of Man, Denmark, Sweden, Gibraltar, Switzerland, Hungary, Iceland, and Poland can ditch face coverings onboard.
British low-cost carrier Jet2 was the first airline in the UK to scrap mask requirements on planes, relaxing the rule on March 1. The carrier says masks are still required on flights to and from Scotland, as well as overseas countries that still require them.
Charter airline TUI says masks can be dropped for those traveling to or from England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, but flights to and from Scotland and some overseas countries, like the US, still require face coverings.
Icelandair has also updated its mask policy to be optional on some routes, including flights within Iceland, and to or from Europe and Greenland. However, masks are still required on service to Canada, the US, Germany (except Frankfurt), and Paris.
As of March 16, Virgin Atlantic has changed its mask rules to be optional on flights from Heathrow and Manchester to the Caribbean. Specifically, face coverings can be removed on flights to or from Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, The Bahamas, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad & Tobago.
Scandinavian Airlines, also known as SAS, removed the mask mandate for flights in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway in October, but has expanded that to all flights except to and from the US, China, and Italy as of April 4.
Norwegian Air Shuttle
Norwegian Air Shuttle changed its covid-era mask policy on April 4, now allowing passengers to forgo face coverings on all of its flights. However, masks may still be required on routes to certain destinations. The company said that as of February 12 when the mandate was lifted in Scandinavia, it has “noticed increased passenger demand and optimism in regards to booking ahead for both leisure and business travel.”
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