While four major carriers have announced that face coverings will no longer be compulsory on their flights, the days of masking up on a plane are far from over.
For starters, individual rules in some departure points (including within the UK) and stricter destinations mean you will still have to wear a mask on some flights - including those operated by the airlines who have announced a relaxation of their mask policy.
Meanwhile some airlines are keeping things simple by continuing to require masks for all passengers on all routes, while Heathrow Airport is no longer demanding people wear masks in its terminals (though, confusingly, it still “strongly recommends” doing so).
Meanwhile in the US, the federal mask mandate was overturned on 19 April, meaning masks are now optional on all flights operating from and within the US.
So do you have to wear (or at least pack) a mask for your next flight?
Here’s the current situation across the UK and Ireland’s major airlines.
Since 27 March, easyJet has relaxed rules slightly, so that masks are not mandatory on flights where neither the departure point nor the destination demands them. So, with England and Iceland both having relaxed their Covid rules, passengers on London to Reykjavik planes can choose not to wear a mask (though the airline still advises that they do). This applies to destinations including Croatia, Denmark and Hungary.
However, on flights departing from, heading to or crossing France - where masks are still required - you will still have to wear one on your flight. “Many of the countries we fly to still legally require that masks are worn and you may need one at the airport, at the gate and during your flight,” warns the policy on its website. It gives the examples of Italy, Austria, France and Germany, where - on all flights from, to and within the countries - everyone over six is required to wear a specific FFP2 quality mask. On all flights to and from countries which still have a mask rule, everyone over six has to wear a surgical-style or cloth face mask (no scarves, face visors or masks with valves).
BA changed its policy in mid-March, relaxing the requirement to wear masks on some flights. “From 16 March, our face mask policy is changing. Where we’re clear the destination you’re travelling to doesn’t require a face mask on board, it will become optional,” tweeted the airline. This means that on flights from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to, say, Iceland or Norway - where all remaining Covid restrictions have been dropped - BA will no longer insist on mask-wearing, though passengers are welcome to continue wearing them.
However, the carrier clarifies: “If you are travelling on our flights, you will be required to wear a mask on board if the destination you are flying to or from requires you to” as well as “ to disembark the aircraft, and at your arrival airport, if the destination you are flying to requires it”.
As such, BA suggests customers keep a mask handy, both for wearing when disembarking in their destination and in case of any last-minute rule changes. They emphasised that the airline provides information about mask requirements in passenger’s destinations online.
On 1 March, Jet2 became the first UK airline to make masks optional on most of its flights. It announced that masks would no longer be mandatory “at our airports or onboard our aircraft”, but emphasises that it still recommends wearing on during a flight, adding that masks will need to be kept handy for arrival in some destinations. “If you fail to wear a face mask in some destinations, you could face a fine from the local authorities. Please check the FCDO website for more information,” states its mask policy.
Since 11 March, masks have been optional on Tui flights from England and Northern Ireland, with the airline still recommending passengers still wear them. On 20 April, this was updated to include flights to and from Scotland. “Face masks will no longer be a legal requirement on Tui Airways flights to/from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, however in line with UK government and EU Charter guidance, we strongly recommend that you still wear a mask throughout your flight,” reads its mask policy.
As with easyJet, it emphasises that certain countries, including Italy, require passengers six and over to wear an FPP2 style mask on flights to and from the country.
Following the US mask mandate being overturned on 19 April, Virgin’s mask policy was updated to say: “face masks will be a personal choice for our customers and people travelling in either direction between the UK and the United States”. The carrier is adding destinations to a list of “mask optional” countries as various nations relax their restrictions, with the current line-up reading: the USA, Pakistan, Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, The Bahamas, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago.
However, masks must still be worn by anyone 12 and over on its flights to and from Delhi, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Lagos, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Tel Aviv. And you’ll still need a face mask handy for the other end of your journey. “Customers may be asked to wear a mask when boarding or disembarking flights, according to the regulations of the departure or arrival airport or destination country/US state,” reads its online policy.
Keeping it simple, Ryanair still requires all passengers to wear a mask on all flights. “In line with current European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)/ European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) guidelines, it is mandatory to wear a face mask/covering on all Ryanair flights,” a spokesperson told The Independent. However, you can choose whether or not to wear a mask while in the airport if taking off from or landing in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.