a man wearing a face mask

Times, they are a’ changing.

After more than two years of airports and airplanes feeling even more awkward than usual, with masks, social distancing and ever changing rules — those travel restrictions are disappearing.

After the US abruptly dropped mask wearing rules on flights, surprising the world, the European Union will now officially dismiss mask wearing rules this week, effective from May 16th.

The change will create better travel certainty, in what right now can only be described as stop-start madness. Like Germany, where Frankfurt Airport doesn’t require a mask, nor are they required in many destinations, yet Germany currently requires masks on all flights.

European Union Drops Mask Mandates

In a joint announcement with the European Centers For Disease Control, Patrick Ky, of the European Air Safety Agency (EASA), announced the end of mandatory face masks on most flights to, from and within the European Union, from May 16th.

“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,” 

Patrick Ky, EASA
a man wearing a face mask

Despite masks being dropped across Europe indoors and on most public transport, airports and airplanes oddly remained singled out in recent guidance. Thats’ set to change and from the 16th of May, 2022 onwards, but it might not be so simple.

The end of the blanket requirement will open up leeway for countries to set their own policies. And some may choose to. Many have already dropped mask requirements, and more are expected to follow, but hold outs may add to current confusion. Until there’s clear alignment of rules from all countries, things will continue to be tricky.

It Might Not Be A Smooth Transition

Some countries in Europe plan to maintain mask guidance on flights, even though the European Air Safety Agency will no longer require them.

This creates an odd grey area where compliance rules on board would become more difficult to enforce, for the few countries which still plan to have rules. Like KLM earlier in the year, some airlines may simply choose not to at all, even if countries mandate.

Flights between the EU and US, for example, should be mask free, following the news.

For the interim, whether that’s the protocol enforced on board a flight will depend on the airline and the EU country of arrival or departure. For that reason, it’s advisable to carry a mask on flights in the interim. It’s also advisable to actually read those pesky message airlines like to send in advance of travel, to check what they’re saying.

Even airline to airline, or crew to crew, rules can vary.

a flag on a building

I’ve Experienced The Chaos And Uncertainty

I follow these things more closely than the average bear. Ok, let’s take that up a notch and say I follow these things more closely than 99.99999% of people — and I still have significant doubt everywhere I go.

I personally experienced this odd chaos in Greece two weeks ago, when the country still required masks. On my flight to Greece, where masks should’ve been required, no one — including cabin crew — wore a mask. Indoors at immigration, few donned them either, despite clear rules mandating them.

Yet on my flight back to the UK from Greece, where masks would theoretically be fully optional due to UK regulations, all crew wore masks and advised passengers to as well. I was utterly confused.

For those who chose not to wear a mask, there was no crew intervention on this flight. That obviously was not the case for a large number of passengers from New York on a certain German airline last week, though.

Masks Shouldn’t Be Required, But…

The big news is that masks will no longer be required by the ECDC or EASA, as of May 16th. That’s a big change which should make it easier for airlines to drop all the mask restrictions still in place more broadly.

However, it won’t necessarily be seamless, and it may not be unified — at least at first. If you’re traveling, be prepared for the unexpected.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. If your biggest source of mental fatigue is whether or not a mask is mandated, you are on an above average intra-Europe flight. The baby-mom combo in row 6 and faux revolutionary in the next seat coming down from last night’s substance of choice are far more problematic post-pandemic realities. But yes, the regulation and the humans applying them are inconsistent and often confusing. Or just wear a mask for a couple hours regardless of the flight and don’t think about the topic. Now the choice is (largely) yours.

  2. For me, there has been a surprising benefit wearing the mask. The mask creates its own microsystem and maintains a higher level of humidity so I don’t feel like toast after 6hrs or a 14hr flight. I sleep better, food tastes better, I will continue to wear them because I simply feel better on arrival, it doesn’t matter if its a placebo effect, it works for me.

  3. Forget mask wearing. What the world wants to know is when will the US drop it’s ludicrous test to enter mandate like most of the world already has. Tell me please why I can fly from LA to NYC untested but not London to NYC fully vaxed?

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