Many providers currently require masks when travelling through airports and on flights. However, this rule will be scrapped from May 16.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have dropped the recommendation for mandatory medical masks for travellers in airports and on board a flight.
This comes as Europe’s response to Covid changes, with high levels of vaccination across the continent, as well as naturally acquired immunity.
However, both organisations still note that a face mask remains one of the best protections against the transmission of the virus.
With the scrapping of mandatory mask wearing, the EASA and ECDC also recommended including a relaxation of more stringent measures concerning air travel.
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EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky made a statement regarding the easing of restrictions.
“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.
“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them.”
But despite the new changes, he urged passengers to use their common sense on board.
“Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them.”
Anyone coughing and sneezing on board a flight should “strongly consider wearing a face mask” to reassure fellow flyers.
ECDC Director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants.
“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal.”
He emphasised that the fight against Covid, however, is not over, outlining some top tips for passenger health and safety.
“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.
“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.”
He concluded that the ECDC and EASA will continue to assess the measures and amend them if and when it is needed.
The new recommendations on face masks will come into effect on Monday May 16, 2022, but rules may vary depending on airline beyond this date.
Some destinations still require visitors to wear masks, so on board these flights, flyers may be encouraged to continue practising this.
Vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules for their own safety, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection.
Social distancing in airport spaces will still be encouraged post May 16.
But this will require a pragmatic approach, so as to avoid creating bottlenecks in various sections around an airport.
As for passenger locator forms, the agencies concluded: “While many states no longer require passengers to submit data through a passenger locator form, airlines should keep their data collection systems on standby so they could make this information available to public health authorities if needed, for example in the case where a new variant of concern (VOC) emerged which was identified as potentially more dangerous.
“New VOCs are frequently discovered with varied degrees of immunity escape and severity of symptoms, the document observed. Airport staff, crew members and passengers should be alert and follow the recommendations and requirements of the national authorities of the State or region they are visiting.”
Additional reporting by Rita Sobot