If England is any indicator, it may be a long time before travelers can fly without masks, even once mandatory mask requirements are lifted. Even with the lifting of a national mask law, airlines have not indicated their mask policy will not change. Will the same be true in the USA?
Airlines Will Not Yet Loosen Mask Rules In England Despite Government Policy Change
In an address to the nation yesterday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that July 19th will be “Freedom Day” in which most pandemic-related restrictions are lifted, at least in England. That includes obligatory masks on subways, trains, airports, and airplanes.
Budget carrier Ryanair, the largest airline in Europe, said it has no plans to loosen its mask rules after July 19th. Nor does EasyJet.
Both airlines made masks compulsory prior to the government mandating it. An EasyJet spokesperson told Paddle Your Own Kanoo:
“We continue to be guided by our inhouse medical adviser and a number of key industry governing bodies that airlines follow including the WHO, ICAO (which provides guidance to the Civil Aviation Authorities), EASA, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and Public Health authorities across Europe and at present their guidance around the wearing of masks onboard remains unchanged.
“At present, there are no changes to easyJet’s onboard mask policy and we will continue to keep this under review.”
British Airways said its masks“policies under constant review” but offered no indication if it would loosen requirements.
Virgin Atlantic is “carefully reviewing” policy but has also not announced any change to its onboard mask policy.
“The health and safety of our customers and crew remains Virgin Atlantic’s number one priority, which is why we are carefully reviewing our policy in relation to face coverings on board our flights post 19th July.
“We’re committed to supporting our customers and crew and will ensure any changes to our policy are communicated accordingly. Currently, all customers and crew are required to wear their masks for the duration of the flight.”
There’s a complicating factor as well, namely that most flights are not domestic English flights or even flights within the United Kingdom. When British Airways flies to Germany or France or Italy it must abide not only by British health restrictions, but by those of the country they are serving. That typically means if there are competing policies, the most restrictive policy applies. Thus, for practical purposes even if British Airways suddenly decided to ditch its mask requirement, that would only apply on domestic flights.
Will We See The Same In The USA?
The domestic network in the USA is far more vast and thus a lifting of the federal mask mandate, set to expire on September 13th, would have a far greater effect on travel, at least potentially.
But will U.S. airlines adapt a similar approach? Airlines won’t say–the question is far too tentative, but it merits mentioning that all U.S. airlines made masks mandatory before the federal mask mandate. It is not only conceivable, but likely that many–if not all–will continue this policy at least temporarily even when no longer compelled to.
That’s a very different question on whether this is the right approach (my answer is no, that masks coupled with the reduction in service onboard has greatly fueled the increase in passenger misbehavior).
Don’t expect airlines to lift their mask requirements even when masks no longer fall under government mandate. If England is any indicator, there will be a lag between government policy and airline policy when it comes to face coverings.