Lufthansa to require masks for flyers, but ease in-flight social distancing

Apr 29, 2020

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Lufthansa Group airlines will require passengers to wear face masks aboard all their flights starting Monday. The move makes it one of the first big European carriers to do so, but the group also said it would ease its in-flight social distancing protocols as a result.

Carriers in the group include Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, Brussels and low-cost Eurowings. Of course, most airlines are operating significantly reduced networks these days, and Austrian and Brussels have completely suspended service through at least the end of May. The new rules regarding masks will apply to any flights on those airlines that are still operating and will remain in effect at least until Aug. 31, according to the company.

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Lufthansa recommends that travelers wear reusable cloth masks, but said that scarves, disposable masks and other face coverings would be acceptable alternatives.

Related: Airlines add new rules as call for masks on planes gets louder.

However, with the introduction of masks, Lufthansa said it would pull back on its efforts to social distance in flight by blocking middle seats.

In a press release, the company said that “as a result of this new regulation, the middle seat that has thus far been left vacant in Economy and Premium Economy Class, will no longer remain a necessity, as the facial covering provides the necessary protection. Yet, currently, due to a decrease in flight demand, seats will be allocated as far apart as possible throughout the cabin.”

The effort to enforce social distancing on planes — or whether doing so is practical in confined airplane cabins — has become something of a contentious issue for airlines to grapple with amid the pandemic.

In North America, some airlines are blocking seats more stringently than others, though those policies have not prevented photos showing scenes of full planes from gaining attention on social media.

Related: What the heck is a HEPA filter? How airplane air stays clean.

Several U.S. airlines have announced their own mask policies in recent days. JetBlue will require passengers to wear masks on all flights, and a number of airlines including United and American have similar rules in place for crews, but no specific policies for passengers so far.

Meanwhile, Delta and other carriers have implemented their own social distancing and public health measures, including modifying boarding procedures, expanding cleaning regimens and artificially reducing capacity on some flights.

Featured photo by Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images.

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