by Kevin Rozario (London, United Kingdom)
New European guidance on masks comes into effect on May 16 and has been welcomed by the aviation industry.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has welcomed new guidance from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to remove its recommendation that masks should be used on planes and in airports.
EASA, in association with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), updated its Aviation Health Safety Protocol today (11 May), calling for the mask mandate to be relaxed where rules have been relaxed for other transport modes.
The policy shift reflects the high vaccination rates, natural immunity, and the removal of domestic restrictions in many European nations. The updated guidance also acknowledges the need to move from an emergency situation to a more sustainable mode of managing COVID19.
IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, commented: “EASA’s recommendation to relax the mask mandate is another important step along the road back to normality for air passengers. Travelers can look forward to freedom of choice on whether to wear a mask. And they can travel with confidence knowing that many features of the aircraft cabin, such as high frequency air exchange and high efficiency filters, make it one of the safest indoor environments.”
Still Some Way To Go
Several jurisdictions still maintain mask requirements and that will be a challenge for airlines and passengers flying between destinations with different requirements. “We believe that mask requirements on board aircraft should end when masks are no longer mandated in other parts of daily life, for example theatres, offices or on public transport,” said Walsh.
He added: “Although the European protocol comes into effect next week, there is no globally consistent approach to mask-wearing on board aircraft. Airlines must comply with the regulations applicable to the routes they are operating. The aircraft crew will know what rules apply and it is critical that passengers follow their instructions. We ask that all travelers be respectful of other people’s decision to voluntarily wear masks even if it is not a requirement.”
The new EASA recommendations on wearing face masks come into effect from May 16, 2022. Vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules said the organization.
In addition to the new mask guidance, EASA’s recommendations include the relaxation of some more stringent measures on air operations, which it says “will help relieve the burden on the industry whilst still keeping appropriate measures in place”.
“A Big Step Forward”
EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky, said: “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. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”
ECDC Director Andrea Ammon added: “While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 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.”
Both organizations also said that while many states no longer require passengers to submit data through a passenger locator form, airlines should keep their data collection systems on standby. Public health authorities might need this information if, for example, a new variant of concern (VOC) emerged which was identified as potentially dangerous.
[Main image: Courtesy of London Heathrow Airport.]