EU Will Scrap Mask Mandate For Air Travel

Face masks will not have to be worn in airports or on flights in Europe beginning next week, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) announced Wednesday, bringing the industry in line with an increasing number of European countries that have relaxed or lifted pandemic restrictions.

Key Facts

Face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in airports and on flights in Europe starting May 16, the EASA said.

The EASA said the change takes account of the high levels of vaccination and naturally acquired immunity across Europe and brings the sector in line with requirements from many national public transport authorities across Europe.

EASA executive director Patrick Ky said the change marks a “big step forward in the normalization of air travel,” but urged passengers to “behave responsible and respect the choices of others around them.”

While not mandatory, ECDC director Andrea Ammon urged people to be mindful that mask wearing, along with handwashing and physical distancing, is “one of the best methods of reducing transmission.”

Mask rules will likely vary by airline after the new recommendations come into force and the agencies said flights to or from destinations with mandates still in place should encourage passengers to comply with those requirements.

Vulnerable passengers should keep wearing a face mask “regardless of the rules,” the agencies said, ideally a high-quality FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask.

Key Background

The decision brings the air travel industry inline with a growing number of EU countries—including Italy, France and Sweden—lifting all or most of their pandemic restrictions. It also brings the sector in line with air travel in the U.S., where airlines have not needed to require masks since mid-April when a federal judge found the CDC’s mandate illegal. Many airlines rushed to lift the requirements after the ruling, with some going so far as to announce the change to passengers mid-air. The Biden administration is appealing the ruling that struck down the mandate.

Further Reading

For passengers in midflight on Monday, there were cheers and alarm as a U.S. mask mandate ended. (NYT)

Comfort With U.S. Air Travel Hits One-Year High Despite Mask Mandate Repeal, Poll Finds (Forbes)

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