Wednesday,  May 31, 2023  7:08 pm

EU removing mask mandate for air travel "a step towards normality," says IATA

EU removing mask mandate for air travel "a step towards normality," says IATA
IATA is applauding the European Aviation Safety Agency’s decision to drop mandatory face mask rules for air travel. (A-photographyy/Shutterstock)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is applauding the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) decision to drop its face mask mandate for airports and flights that take place in Europe.

EASA’s updated Aviation Health Safety Protocol, posted Wednesday (May 11), calls for the mandatory mask rule to be relaxed where rules have been relaxed for other transport modes.

“This important shift reflects the high levels of vaccination, natural immunity levels, and the removal of domestic restrictions in many European nations,” IATA said in a statement that same day.

The updated guidance, which kicks in May 16, also acknowledges the need to move from an emergency situation to a more sustainable mode of managing COVID-19.

READ MORE: EU to drop face mask rule for airports and flights in Europe

“We welcome EASA’s recommendation to relax the mask mandate, which is another important step along the road back to normality for air passengers,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general. “Travellers 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.”

Starting May 16, air travellers in Europe won't have to wear a face mask on planes and in airports. (Thanakorn.P/Shutterstock)

Both the EASA and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), however, are continuing to advise vulnerable passengers to wear a face mask, regardless of the rules.

And 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.

READ MORE: “It is what it is”: Ottawa to keep mask requirement for travel after U.S. drops rule

Several jurisdictions still maintain mask requirements.

That, IATA says, is 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. Although the European protocol comes into effect next week, there is no globally consistent approach to mask-wearing on board aircraft,” said Walsh “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.”

“And we ask that all travellers be respectful of other people’s decision to voluntarily wear masks even if it not a requirement.”

Mask mandate remains in Canada

Three week ago, following a judge's ruling that struck down the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) masking rules for public transit, many U.S. airlines made face coverings optional for both passengers and employees.

The Government of Canada eased its travel restrictions further on April 25, removing the need for fully vaccinated travellers to provide a quarantine plan upon entry.

READ MORE: Multiple U.S. airlines make face masks optional following judge’s ruling

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children aged five to 11 who are accompanied by a fully vaccinated parent or guardian also no longer have to undergo a COVID-19 test for entry to Canada.

But Ottawa is standing firm on mandatory masking on airplanes and trains.

"Masks are proven to provide additional layers of protection and we will continue to follow the advice of our public health experts," Alghabra told media last month.  "I take no joy in these regulations except to know they are done to protect everyone's health and safety."

“Science and data” will continue to guide the government’s decisions, Alghabra said at the time. 

"We constantly consult our experts and whenever the advice that we receive changes because the circumstances change, we will change our regulation.”

"But for now, it is what it is."

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