On 11 May 2022, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued a joint update to the health safety measures for air travel, dropping the mandatory wearing of medical masks on board a flight, but noting that a face mask is still one of the best protections against transmission of COVID-19.
The update takes account of 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. In addition to the changes with respect to masks, its recommendations include a relaxation of the more stringent measures on airline operations, which will help relieve the burden on the industry whilst keeping appropriate measures in place.
The new recommendations on the wearing of face masks are set to come into effect from 16 May 2022. However, rules for masks will continue to vary by airline beyond that date. For example, flights to or from a destination where mask-wearing is still required on public transport should continue to encourage mask wearing, according to the recommendations. Vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask, which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.
Passengers are also encouraged to observe distancing measures in indoor areas, including at the airport, wherever possible. But airport operators should adopt a pragmatic approach to this, such as avoiding the imposition of distancing requirements if these will very likely lead to a bottleneck in another location in the passenger journey, especially if they are not required at national or regional level in other similar settings.
While many states no longer require passengers to submit data through a passenger locator form, airlines should keep their data collection systems on standby so they could make this information available to public health authorities if needed, for example, in the case where a new variant of concern (VOC) emerged which was identified as potentially more dangerous.
Sources: EASA, 11 May 2022 and ECDC, 11 May 2022