The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) have issued a joint statement with new recommendations ending the requirement for passengers in European airports or on flights in Europe to wear face masks. The change goes into effect Monday, May 16. The EU’s move is seen as another sign that COVID-19 is loosening its grip on global travel, producing a surge in international passenger traffic.
The agencies said the new recommendations reflect "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." However, the EU statement cautions that rules for masks will “continue to vary by airline.” For example, it says that mask-wearing should be encouraged when passengers are flying to or from a destination where the policy is required on public transport. But the number of those destinations continues to dwindle; the UK dropped all its COVID-related measures in March, and in the US, the nationwide mask mandate on public transport was voided by a Federal judge in an April decision.
Although mask wearing is no longer an EU-wide mandate, EASA executive director Patrick Ky urged passengers to “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.” Vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face covering, as well as those who are coughing and sneezing “for the reassurance of those seated nearby.” The EU recommends masks of the FFP2/N95/KN95 type.
Meanwhile, the new recommendations advise airports not to continue distancing protocols if doing so is likely to create a “bottleneck in another location in the passenger journey.” However, the agencies are also advising airlines that systems for gathering passenger locator information should be kept on standby in case some future need arises such as the emergence of a dangerous new variant.