The EU is removing the recommendation that face masks should be mandatory at airports and onboard aircraft as the Covid-19 crisis continues to ease.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control issued a joint statement on Wednesday announcing the relaxation of the Aviation Health Safety Protocol on mask-wearing for air travel from May 16.
However, the two agencies noted that wearing a mask is “still one of the best protections against the transmission of Covid-19.”
They have also relaxed some of the “more stringent” measures placed on airline operations, which the agencies said would “relieve the burden on the industry whilst still keeping appropriate measures in place.”
EASA executive director Patrick Ky added: “For many passengers and also aircrew members there is a strong desire for masks to no longer be a mandatory part of air travel. We are now at the start of that process.
“Passengers should continue to comply with the requirements of their airline and, where preventive measures are optional, make responsible decisions and respect the choice of other passengers.”
ECDC director Andrea Ammon warned that risks “remain” for travelers despite the withdrawal of the recommendation on wearing masks.
“It is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene, it [wearing masks] is one of the best methods of reducing transmission,” said Ammon.
“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.”
IATA director general Willie Walsh welcomed the move as “another important step along the road back to normality” for airline passengers.
“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,” added Walsh in a statement.