Update: Which flights do I need to wear a face mask on? An airline-by-airline guide

Apr 12, 2022

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The mask is slipping from the travel industry … literally, as airlines race to free the face on flights.

In mid-March, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic followed Jet2 and Tui in making masks an option rather than an obligation on some routes, while London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) announced it will no longer expect travelers to cover their noses and mouths in its terminals.

Related: Is it time to rethink COVID-19 travel mandates in the US?

Then came easyJet, before KLM and Norwegian joined the domino run of airlines allowing passengers to fly barefaced.

Meanwhile, the CEOs of 10 U.S. airlines have written an impassioned open letter to President Joe Biden, begging him to allow them to stop enforcing mask-wearing on flights for the sake of both passengers and crew.

Related: We flew 4 major European airlines and their mask policies confused the hell out of us

So which airlines are holding fast on mask rules, and which are letting go?

Here’s an airline-by-airline guide.

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In This Post

Air Canada

Compulsory

Canada dropped the requirement for pre-entry tests on April 1, but Air Canada has not dropped masks on flights. Yet.

“You must have a mask or face covering that covers your mouth and nose during your travel through Canadian airports and during your flight,” indicates the Canadian government’s website. “Air operators must notify each passenger, and receive confirmation, that they have a face covering as early as possible during their journey.”

Air France

Compulsory (surgical masks only)

Air France is one of the stricter airlines when it comes to masks. The rules are simple: No cloth masks are allowed, only surgical masks. They are also mandatory “from the moment you arrive at the airport and throughout your Air France flight.”

“It is mandatory to wear a surgical mask or an FFP1, FFP2 or FFP3 type mask, without an exhaust valve, on board.”

Aer Lingus

Compulsory

Aer Lingus is another airline yet to budge. You’ll need a medical certificate to go mask-free, but cloth masks are allowed. “We recommend that these are worn from when you enter your departure airport to when you leave your destination airport,” the airline adds.

American Airlines

Compulsory (with great reluctance)

It is compulsory to wear a mask on all American Airlines flights. Not just any mask, though, but one with “two-layered secured cloth that completely covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly to the sides of your face and under your chin.” Face shields can be worn in addition to a mask, but not instead of.

Only those under 2 and medically exempt can fly barefaced.

However, American was among 10 U.S. airlines whose CEOs wrote an open letter to President Biden on March 23, urging him to allow them to lift mask rules on flights.

“Now is the time for the administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international pre-departure testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment,” the letter read.

Related: US airline heads urge White House to lift testing, mask mandate for air travel

“The persistent and steady decline of hospitalization and death rates are the most compelling indicators that our country is well protected against severe disease from COVID-19,” the letter states. “Given that we have entered a different phase of dealing with this virus, we strongly support your view that ‘COVID-19 need no longer control our lives.'”

The letter also included that airline staff members bear the brunt of passenger frustration at being forced to wear masks on flights. “This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers,” the letter added. “This in turn takes a toll on their own well-being.”

British Airways

Down to ‘personal choice’ on routes where international regulations around mask-wearing do not apply

The United Kingdom’s flagship carrier told The Points Guy on March 2, “We have no immediate plans to change our mask policy, but keep our policies under review and continue to take advice and guidance from all the appropriate authorities.”

However, on March 15 the airline made a U-turn on the policy, announcing passengers will soon be asked to “make a personal choice” as to whether they want to wear a mask to some destinations.

Related: Masks or no masks? Confusion all around for British Airways

“From Wednesday, March 16, customers will only be required to wear a face covering on board our flights if the destination they’re traveling to requires it,” said CEO Jason Mahoney. “For destinations where the wearing of a face covering is not mandated, our customers are able to make a personal choice, and we kindly request everyone respects each other’s preferences.”

Delta Air Lines

Compulsory (with great reluctance)

You could be hit with a $35,000 fine for refusing to wear a mask on a Delta flight. That goes for anyone over the age of 2, unless medically exempt.

Delta also signed the aforementioned letter to President Biden.

EasyJet

Optional on flights to countries where masks are not mandatory in public

Since March 27, easyJet passengers traveling to countries where it is not a legal requirement to wear face coverings in public places can fly barefaced for the first time since July 2020, the airline announced.

“Following the removal of mandatory mask-wearing in a number of countries, we have reviewed our mask policy onboard and have taken the decision that, from March 27, 2022, on flights where masks are no longer legally required at both ends of the route, we will not mandate customers and crew to wear masks on board the flight,” read a company statement.

The statement also indicated that customers or crew members who wish to continue wearing a mask will “have their personal choice respected.”

The new rules will apply to all domestic U.K. routes, except to or from Scotland, as well as to Jersey, Hungary, Denmark, Gibraltar and Iceland.

Emirates

Compulsory

According to the airline’s website, passengers must “wear a cloth or medical mask throughout Dubai International airport, during boarding, throughout your flight and as you leave the aircraft.”

This applies to everybody over the age of 6, barring those with medical exemptions.

Related: Ireland ditches most of its COVID-19 rules: Americans welcome just in time for St. Patrick’s Day

There might be some leeway on board the airline’s Airbus A380, however, where business- and first-class passengers are invited to order drinks from its iconic standing bar.

However, here’s what the company says about that: “You need to keep your mask on throughout the flight, too, when you’re not eating or drinking, as well as any other PPE requirements for your destination.”

Etihad

Compulsory

“We choose smiles you can’t see” according to Etihad’s website in one of air travel’s friendliest (or perhaps creepiest) mask-policy public statements.

“You must wear a face mask on board and our crew wear PPE at all times,” says the airline, which also boasts of being the world’s first carrier to force all its pilots and cabin crew to get vaccinated.

Finnair

Compulsory (surgical masks only)

The Finnish flag carrier minces no words: “We no longer accept fabric masks on our flights. We accept surgical masks, FFP2 or FFP3 respirator masks without a valve or other valve free masks with the same standard (N95).”

It goes on to say your mask must cover your mouth and nose “at all times at airports in Finland and at Finnair service points at other airports,” including when boarding an aircraft and during the flight. “Please bring your own masks,” it adds, “as your boarding can be denied without a mask.”

Jet2

Optional on flights to and from the UK except to and from Scotland

On March 2, Jet2 became the first U.K. airline to scrap the requirement to wear masks on its planes.

The budget carrier relaxed its rules on March 1, telling passengers they can now fly barefaced for the duration of its flights after the U.K. lifted all COVID-19 protection measures on Feb. 11.

“It’s no longer a legal requirement to wear a face mask at our airports or onboard our planes,” Jet2 indicated in a statement on its website. “However, as per U.K. government guidance, we recommend that you continue to wear a face mask in these spaces, and you will need to wear one when you get to your overseas destination.”

The guidance does not, however, apply to flights to and from Scotland, where mask-wearing is still compulsory in airports. “This is the case even if you’re fully vaccinated,” the statement added.

KLM

Optional

From March 23, KLM announced it will no longer enforce the wearing of masks on its flights, despite the Dutch government’s refusal to lift mask-wearing rules on public transport.

The Dutch carrier said it was becoming more difficult to justify the enforcement of masks to passengers when so many countries (including the Netherlands) are abandoning mask rules in public places on the ground. The airline added that, as a result, it had seen an increase in “unruly” behavior on flights.

Norwegian

Optional (but check local requirements of where you’re going)

Norwegian stopped requiring passengers to wear masks on April 4.

From April 4, people flying on the Scandinavian carrier can choose whether to cover their faces or not, although the airline does advise that all passengers should check local requirements and guidance at their destination ahead of traveling — including any stops or connecting flights. The airline also noted that “it is the responsibility of the passenger to comply with local regulations and restrictions.”

Qantas

Compulsory

According to Qantas‘ website, masks are compulsory on all flights. “Your face mask needs to cover your mouth and nose, fit securely and must be worn unless you’re under 12 years of age or have a medical exemption,” it reads. “A scarf or bandana is not considered a face mask.”

Ryanair

Compulsory (for now)

While masks are still a cast-iron requirement on all Ryanair flights, industry insiders believe it to be a matter of time before the Irish carrier drops the rule.

CEO Michael O’Leary even revealed he would like to see holidaymakers fly barefaced by April or May this year, adding: “We are consulting with cabin crew as well, at the moment. We want to know how they feel. The key issue for us is that people are comfortable to go back onboard our aircraft.”

Southwest Airlines

Compulsory (with great reluctance)

Masks are compulsory until President Biden deems otherwise. Southwest also signed the letter (see the entry for American Airlines) to the president.

Swiss

Compulsory (surgical masks only)

Swiss has also banned the use of cloth face masks, saying a “mouth-nose cover” is required for all passengers and staff, vaccinated or not.

“On all flights, face masks of the FFP2, FFP3, KN95 or N95 standard without a valve and not made of fabric, surgical masks, as well as community masks are obligatory when boarding, onboard and when leaving the aircraft.”

It does, however, say that allowances may be made in cases of differences in “national regulations or requirements of a destination country.”

Tui

Optional on UK flights (but strongly recommended), except to and from Scotland where it’s compulsory

On March 11, Tui became the second carrier to throw caution to the wind and scrap the mask on certain routes. The move was extended to include flights to and from Wales on March 29.

The company said, “It’s no longer a legal requirement for those traveling to or from England or Northern Ireland to wear a face mask during their TUI Airways flight, but – in accordance with U.K. government and EU Charter guidance – we do still strongly recommend that you do so.”

United Airlines

Compulsory (with great reluctance)

United also signed the letter (see the American Airlines entry) to President Biden begging him to free the face on flights.

Virgin Atlantic

Down to ‘personal choice’ on routes where international regulations around mask-wearing do not apply

Virgin Atlantic on March 15 echoed British Airways in telling passengers to use discretion when deciding whether to wear a mask on certain flights. “As we learn to live with COVID-19 and with the legal requirement to wear a face mask now removed in England, we believe our customers should have the personal choice whether to wear a mask on board, on routes where international regulations around mask-wearing do not apply,” Chief Customer and Operating Officer Corneel Koster told customers.

He said Virgin would soft-launch the new policy on flights to the Caribbean from March 17, before “gradually” phasing it into the rest of the airline’s schedule.

Wizz Air

Compulsory

The Hungarian low-cost carrier says it is compulsory to wear face masks on board all its aircraft for both passengers and crew. For flights over four hours, it recommends you bring more face masks.

“Other protective gear is recommended and appreciated,” the airline adds.

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/Getty Images.

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