From today the European Union has recommended that member countries drop face mask rules for flights and airports within the EU. However, many countries are opting to keep masking rules for passengers.
Broadly speaking, this means you'll no longer be required to wear one from today Monday, May 16. However, before you ditch your mask, you'll need to check your airline and destination's policy because not everyone is on board with the recommendation.
Spain, is continuing to enforce its mask mandate regardless. The country's health minister, Carolina Darias, said that passengers should continue wearing face masks on board flights to and from Spain even after May 16. Italy has said that masks will be required on planes until June 15.
Other top European tourist destinations still have mask mandates in place and have not suggested that they will drop them before Monday.
What is the EU recommendation?
One month after the US ruled that face masks are no longer required onboard flights or in airport terminal buildings, the EU is following suit, saying that it has reached a stage in vaccination and immunity where measures can be relaxed further.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said that the recommendation to wear face masks in airport buildings and while on flights will no longer apply from the middle of May.
“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.
The recommendations are not binding and countries who still have mask mandates in place can decide to keep them.
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What destinations are keeping the air travel mask mandate?
Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain will keep their mask mandates, even after the ECDC policy change next week.
So if you're traveling to and from any of these destinations, or boarding a domestic flight within them, you'll need to have a mask. An FFP2/N95/KN95 is generally required.
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What other countries have dropped air travel face mask mandates?
France dropped its mask mandate on Wednesday and said that face coverings will no longer be required on trains, planes and metros starting on May 16. Other EU and Schengen Area countries like Denmark, Ireland, Croatia, Iceland, and Norway have dropped their transport mask mandates too.
Outside of Europe, the US dropped its face mask mandate for airlines and flights in April after a federal court ruled the 14-month-old mandate unlawful. Although just last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came out and said it still encourages people to wear masks on board planes, trains and in airports despite the ruling.
In March, the UK, which is no longer part of the EU, scrapped the face mask mandate in airports but they're still generally required on board flights.
Should we still wear face masks on planes anyway?
It depends on where you are going and the airline you are flying with. You could be flying to a destination in Europe where the mask mandate has been dropped, but your airline still may require you to wear one anyway.
And even if your airline and destination have both dropped the mandate, that doesn't mean you have to stop wearing one. EU officials did note that "face masks are still one of the best protections against the transmission of COVID-19" and people who wish to wear one are encouraged to do so, particularly vulnerable people or those who are sneezing and coughing or feeling in any way unwell, with the more protective FFP2/N95/KN95 type masks.
"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. In particular, a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby," Ky added.
Always check your airline and destination's face mask policy before traveling. If we've learned anything during the pandemic, it's that rules are constantly in flux and situations can change with little warning.