The European Union (EU) announced it would lift mask mandates for airplanes and airports as coronavirus-related travel restrictions continue to be eased across the bloc.
According to The Associated Press, the EU’s Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control made the joint decision with the hope it would be “a big step forward in the normalization of air travel.”
The mask mandates will be officially lifted on May 16, but each airline will still be able to enforce the policies if deemed necessary and facial coverings will be required on flights to destinations where the rules are different.
In a joint statement, the two agencies said the updated guidelines take “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.”
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control director Andrea Ammon also revealed that the agency would still advise airport operators not to impose distancing requirements if they are likely to lead to a bottleneck.
While the existing protocols will be lifted later this month, EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said, “passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them.”
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed the new guidance from the EASA removing its recommendation that masks should be required in-flight.
“We welcome EASA’s recommendation to relax the mask mandate, which is another important step along the road back to normality for air passengers,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said. “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.”
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced people traveling on public forms of transportation should still be wearing a mask for protection against coronavirus. The recommendation comes after a federal judge struck down the mask mandate last month.