THE REQUIREMENT to wear face masks on board flights in Europe will be lifted from this Friday, 16 May, the European Union Aviation Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has announced.
The changes take into account 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 numbers of European countries," a statement said.
In addition to the changes with respect to masks, recommendations include a relaxation of the more stringent measures on air operations, which aims to 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.
“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 Andrew Ammon said that "while risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have slowed 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."
While the change comes into effect on Friday, mask wearing will continue to vary by airline beyond that date, with certain destinations requiring their continued use.
Vulnerable passengers are encouraged to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.
Passengers are also encouraged to observe social distancing measures in indoor areas, including at the airport, where possible.