EU to drop mask mandate for flights and airports

A multicountry mask mandate for European airplanes and airports will lift next week, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control announced Wednesday. The policy begins Monday.

“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,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in a news release. “For passengers and aircrews, this is a big step forward in the normalization of air travel.”

Ky added that passengers should respect each other’s choices, and those who are coughing and sneezing should “strongly consider” wearing a face covering to reassure nearby travelers.

The agencies said the updated protocol considers vaccination rates, levels of naturally acquired immunity and easing pandemic rules in numerous European countries. Mask rules will continue to vary by airline, the release said, and should be encouraged on flights to or from a destination with a mandate in place for public transportation.

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal,” ECDC director Andrea Ammon said in the release. “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.”

Many European countries have eased their coronavirus restrictions in recent months. Greece and Italy recently scrapped proof-of-vaccination requirements, along with other rules, while nearby destinations such as the United Kingdom and Norway have dropped their pandemic travel rules entirely.

The news follows a similar change in the United States, after a Florida judge struck down the federal mask mandate for planes and other public transportation settings last month, earning mixed reaction from travelers. Some were elated by the decision, while it has been a source of anxiety for others. The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling.

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