Face masks will no longer be mandatory on EU flights beginning next week
The European Union is to scrap face mask rules on planes and in airports beginning next week.
In a joint statement, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said the measure would help to ease pressure on the travel industry.
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While both bodies reminded travelers that masks are still the best defense against COVID-19, they will no longer be required by law on European flights beginning May 16.
“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,” said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky.
“For passengers and aircrew, this is a big step forward in the normalization of air travel."
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“Passengers should, however, behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them.”
Vulnerable passengers are advised to continue to wear face masks in spite of rule changes – ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 mask, which provides a superior level of protection than a surgical or cloth mask.
The guidance also advised airport chiefs not to impose social distancing if it is likely to lead to “bottlenecking” anywhere on the passenger journey.
The bodies said that the updated guidance, “takes account of the latest developments in the pandemic, in particular the levels of vaccination and naturally acquired immunity, and the accompanying lifting of restrictions in a growing number of European countries."
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Andrea Ammon, Director of the ECDC, hailed vaccine technology as allowing “our lives to begin to return to normal,” as well as achieve natural immunity.
“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," she said.
“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”
The guidance also indicated that airports should continue to promote face masks as an option, and passengers should “respect others’ decision to wear or to not wear a mask.”
Related: Spain extends entry rules for unvaccinated until at least 15 May
On top of that, it recommended that airlines hold back from destroying their passenger locator form systems in case they are needed again in future.
Already a number of European airlines operating from Britain have lifted their own mask mandates, since the U.K. government lifted the requirement to wear face masks on public transport on so-called "Freedom Day" on March 18.
They include British Airways, easyJet, Jet2 and Tui. However, with the latest news, it seems only a matter of time before other European airlines follow suit.