Face masks will not have to be worn in airports or on flights in Europe staring next week, according to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The update, announced Wednesday (May 11), comes as an increasing number of European countries have relaxed or lifted their pandemic-related restrictions.
While the mask requirement will be dropped, both the EASA and ECDC still say that wearing a face mask is still one of the best protections against the transmission of COVID-19, as per a notice posted to the EASA’s website.
The eased protocol takes account of the latest developments in the pandemic, in particular the levels of vaccination and naturally acquired immunity, and the accompanying lifting of restrictions in a growing number of European countries.
In addition to the changes with respect to masks, its recommendations include a relaxation of the more stringent measures on air operations, which will help “relieve the burden on the industry whilst still keeping appropriate measures in place.”
“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,” said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky, in a statement. “For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalization 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.”
The new recommendations on the wearing of face masks are set to come into effect from May 16, 2022.
However, rules for masks in particular will continue to vary by airline beyond that date.
For example, flights to or from a destination where mask-wearing is still required on public transport should continue to encourage mask wearing, according to the recommendations, the groups said.
Vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, the agency said.
“The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants,” said ECDC Director Andrea Ammon.
“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.”
“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.”
“The importance of these measures should continue to be effectively communicated to passengers for their safety, and ECDC will continue to work with our colleagues at EASA to regularly assess and amend the recommendations as necessary.”