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Masks or no masks? Confusion all around for British Airways

March 23, 2022
5 min read
British Airways First COVID Flight to US from London
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Last week, British Airways announced that, on March 16, it would drop the requirement for passengers to wear face masks on its flights.

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Then the day came, and the airline appeared to backtrack. Passengers wishing to go mask-free were mostly left confused -- and in some cases annoyed -- when they discovered they were still being asked to wear face coverings on their flights.

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My TPG UK colleague and I were among these confused passengers when we flew to Ireland on March 17 for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. While boarding our British Airways flight to Dublin Airport (DUB) we were told we would need to wear a face mask on the flight -- despite Ireland having recently dropped these COVID-19 measures. This contradicted the fanfare of their announcement earlier in the week which they were promoting on Twitter.

A BA source who contacted TPG UK via social media informed us that the airline had issued an internal email among staff stating “​​all routes still require face masks on board. Even domestic flights.” Meanwhile, another source told us that the confusion was down to logistical challenges in “updating and understanding the entry restrictions for every destination.”

Related: We boarded one of BA’s first ‘maskless’ flights, and it really didn’t go to plan

Frankly speaking, it was all terribly confusing. So what was happening? Had British Airways performed a spectacular U-turn on its own announcement, or was it simply down to miscommunication and confused flight staff and passengers misinterpreting the announcement? We reached out to British Airways to clarify.

Can I fly British Airways without a mask?

“While many airports in England and Wales no longer require customers to wear a face-covering at the terminal buildings, as an international airline flying all around the world, we are obliged to ensure our customers continue to comply with local restrictions and meet the requirements of the destination they arrive at,” a British Airways spokesperson told TPG UK.

“You will be required to wear a mask onboard our flights if the destination you’re traveling to or from requires you to.

“You will be required to wear a mask to disembark the aircraft, and at your arrival airport, if the destination you’re flying to requires it.”

They also added that where the airline was “unable to clarify local restrictions,” passengers would still be required to wear face coverings on flights, advising travelers to ensure they carry masks with them for the duration of their flights.

Related: Updated: A country-by-country guide to coronavirus reopenings

On flights to destinations where a face covering is not mandated, British Airways will allow travelers to make a personal choice regarding whether or not to wear a mask.

In short:

  • If you’re flying to or from a destination that requires face masks to be worn, you will be required to wear a face mask.

Our reading of all this is that while well-intentioned, BA’s announcement was perhaps somewhat premature and lacking in clarity — not taking note of the complexities of international travel requirements — and on the majority of flights, you will still be required to wear a mask, simply because those are the actual rules. It's also in line with Virgin Atlantic, which changed its own rules on the same day and provided travelers with clarity from the beginning.

Bottom line

Like all airlines, BA is at the mercy of the laws of the countries that it is flying to or from, which makes grand announcements about dropping face masks something of a damp squib. The airline is sort of dropping mask rules but also sort of not, but, if the country and airport you’re flying to have dropped mask rules, you won’t need to wear a mask.

The travel guidance, therefore, is the same as it has been throughout the pandemic -- check local travel restrictions and entry requirements before you depart, and adhere to them.

If you don’t, British Airways attendants will remind you of the face mask rules of your destination when you board your flight, and likely hand you a mask to wear as they did with TPG just last week.

More: KLM plans to stop monitoring face masks this week – despite Dutch government rules

Featured image by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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