As some of you may know, I recently returned from an essential trip with two legs in Europe and two across the Atlantic Ocean. Days later, I’m lucky to say that I feel 100%, though I recognize it may be longer before I’m out of the woods. While flying is now in many ways different, I was pleased to see that much remains the same.

You go to an airport, you check in, you empty stuff out of your bag, you pass through a screening machine, you pass time and then you go somewhere.The main difference: you wear a mask

The trip gave me modest confidence of a return to semi normalcy, or at least the safe movement of people, but there’s certainly an added feeling of anxiety on board, knowing that someone near you may potentially spread the virus people are so understandably worried about, at least for the near future.

It’s why British Airways policy not to mandate face masks, but rather just recommend them (which is new), is slightly odd. It’s fine for BA not to mandate face masks; that’s their right and choice, but after flying recently, I simply won’t be flying with the airline until they do. That’s my right and choice too…

BA reached out to say “I just wanted to let you know that we are asking all customers to wear masks on board”, to which I replied “but that’s just it, you’re asking, not mandating”. Right now, that distinction matters quite a lot.

“Masks Don’t Solve Everything”

British Airways has been quoted recently taking the approach that masks don’t keep you safe, which is along with government guidelines in the UK. The thing is – no one is saying masks do everything, they’re just saying that they can do a quite a lot, and British Airways is now one of the few airlines on earth not to specifically make wearing one mandatory.

Most governments say masks are only really effective if everyone is wearing one, so by not specifically making them mandatory, British Airways is actually diminishing the return on safety many passengers are investing in themselves.

Before you go all high and mighty about how masks aren’t perfect, ask yourself the answers to these questions..

  1. If you were asymptomatic, but did have covid-19, would you feel bad if you gave it to someone who then died from it?
  2. Would you willingly sit next to someone who refuses to wear a mask, knowing they could infect you?

Lots of people say masks don’t solve everything, but how can you pretend they don’t help? Here’s a video which shows they absolutely do.

If the main method of transmission for covid-19 is droplets, and masks block the vast majority of particles from going as far as they would otherwise, doesn’t that inherently help reduce chances?

Recent social media and news reports describe full BA flights where cabin crew, who are regularly at greater risks of having and spreading covid-19 by virtue of the close proximity to others they’re regularly in, in confined spaces, weren’t even wearing a masks. I find that wild, given my recent experiences.

If there’s one thing that made me feel safe during my journeys, it certainly wasn’t a belief in airline cleaning. It was taking matters into my own hands by disinfecting the seat, and wearing a mask. This belief in safety matters was fueled by regular announcements stating masks must stay on, except for brief nips of food or drinks would help keep someone from getting me sick, or vice versa by the airline operating my flight.

Yes, that’s one of the greatest misconceptions with masks: they’re not so much about keeping what’s in the air out of your mouth, they’re about keeping your stuff out of the air. That way, if everyone keeps their stuff out of the air, they might actually stop something. Even taking one half a meter off the distance a particle travels can be huge in such tight spaces, like economy cabins.

It could also be noted that while British Airways isn’t mandating masks, they have taken the liberty of removing service from all cabins, with nothing but a snack box, tea and water, even in first class. Apparently, pizza and other easy items are being trialled, but are not widely rolled out.

Contrast this with Qatar Airways, which owns a percentage of BA, which is serving full meals and all beverages, albeit in full head to toe PPE gear, and you get a picture of just how odd this all seems.

Why is virtually every other airline mandating face masks for all passengers, and going as far as creating new PPE equipped uniforms for crew, when BA is effectively saying “we’d like you to, but won’t enforce the measures, even for our crew”.

Does British Airways have a crystal ball? Let’s hope so. Signs are emerging that the worst of the virus is well behind us, at least for now. Seasonality and the recently expressed probability that it’s unlikely to get reinfected make the case even stronger, but that does nothing for customer piece of mind, or safety in the interim.

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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59 Comments

  1. Mandating masks would also mean ensuring adequate PPE was provided to their staff… We all know how much BA value their staff.
    However PPE also costs albeit relatively small amounts in the context of a flight. Again though we know how generous BA are at paying for anything (including products they advertise as being part of their service like working IFE, WiFi, catering choice and availability, etc)
    Just another reason to avoid SpanglishQatari airways, the shareholders airline, profiteering form their staff and customers misery.

    1. But I will! This whole pandemic is just another hoax, like global warming… Throw out your TV and use your brain… It just doesn’t make sense to breathe in the CO2 you are breathing out…

      1. I sooooo agree with you MM!!! People must start using their brain more and just keep going with your lifes rather than live in fear!

      2. How can you honestly say it’s just a hoax, when statistics show thousands of people dying from this virus. If we didn’t have proof, then one could assume anything.

  2. Plenty of masks for crew already on board.

    The US carriers have admitted they can’t enforce mask wearing, only encourage – crew been told explicitly not to try and enforce it. Not sure about other EU carriers

  3. The WHO says that masks should only be worn by healthy people IF they’re dealing with COVID-19 patients.

    Sure, every other airline is “requiring” them, that’s partially true. But they’re not doing that for public safety reasons, they’re doing that because most people think planes are unsafe and the masks will help them. If planes were truly unsafe, nearly every flight attendant would’ve contracted the disease by now.

    There have already been many stories about internal airline policies towards masks. People are only really required to wear them during boarding. Once you’re on the plane the flight attendants do not enforce it.

    1. Isn’t the point of a mask to protect other people, so if you are asymptomatic then you are less likely to pass it on to others where physics distancing isn’t possible. That might be totally wrong but if it is right then surely airlines asking passengers to wear one is helpful in stopping the spread.

        1. If you’re symptomatic then you shouldn’t be traveling. If you’re asymptomatic then you lack the contagious symptoms (coughing and sneezing) that result in the virus (any virus) moving from inside of the body to the outside where it can be picked up by others. If you’re a solo traveler you’re not even likely to be doing much talking. The risk of asymptomatic spread is a bit like the risk of outdoor transmission; technically possible but so unlikely that the risk of it is comparable to everyday risks inherent in just leaving the house and living life. I don’t wear PPE during flu season (which is also deadly for some) and I won’t wear PPE for this either. To each their own though.

  4. Great. I will not fly with airlines who wants me to wear masks. I am not afraid of a Virus Not more dangerous than the flu. So I want the return to normal and it will come sooner than you think. So as Long as British Dont force me to wear a mask I will prefer them before other airlines.

    I am based in Germany.

    1. Vulnerable people get a flu jab because flu is dangerous… until such time as a vaccine or treatment is available I am happy to wear a mask in case I inadvertently spread it to someone that could die from it.

  5. This goes very much in line with the British ‘laisse-faire’ attitude since this crisis started and the fact that people don’t feel compelled to wear a mask. Given the risky nature of inclosed spaces, I certainly won’t be travelling on airlines that dont make masks compulsory for the staff and the passengers.

  6. Their behaviour throughout all of this is embarrassing. Treatment of staff has been dreadful now they don’t want to do their bit by providing passengers who don’t have masks with one. Don’t even need to mention the treatment of exec club members… all of these behaviours will result in a completely different airline, most changes will not be in a good way! I have gone through all of the old denied EU261 claims and have asked Bott & Co. to have a go, I won’t do this with other airlines who are doing the right thing.

  7. You know, if the government or corporations don’t tell you what to do – you can still make choices for yourself.

    It’s weird, there is this thing on top of our bodies called a brain. We can actually use it!

    We don’t have to be told what to do ALL the time. We can, wait for it, be independent.
    AND we can take personal responsibility.

    It’s so weird when people complain about not be forced to do something.

    Masks aren’t for healthy people. Their window dressing and security theater.

    And in most countries, they are meant to cover companies a** from frivolous lawsuits.


    So, hats off to BA for thinking it’s customers are not dumb as rocks – and can decide for themselves how to dress each day.

    It’s so strange to hear someone admit they can’t make these decisions for themself.

    Do you call The government each day to check if it’s safe to go outside?

    Or call your mom every time you travel to see if she thinks it’s safe?

    Personal responsibility…. it’s STILL A thing, even if most people clearly don’t know how to use it anymore :/

    1. This is such a straw man argument. The whole point of masks is that you, not someone else might have covid-19. Wearing one makes droplets less likely to spray into the air, or at least limit their distance when they do. By doing so, you’re helping to ensure that others don’t contact the virus because of you. If everyone does that, it’s a good thing. If they don’t, they’re creating uneccesary risk for all.

  8. Why do you think British Airways care about their staff .if a few die less to pay out on redundancy.and as for passengers ,well they don’t give a damn about those !

  9. BA has more problems than PPE. The way it is firing 12000 people at this moment of the pandemic is heartless and immoral. And the rest staying will get way less than before.
    Pax should boycott BA. The EU and the British gov. should consider wisely not to give IAG S.A. any financial aid eith such an abominable attitude to its work force. I am so shocked and angry with this attitude and decide to stop flying them. I already canceled my planned 4 Club world and 5 Club Europe flights in the coming months. This is my personal decision and I would not support such dreadful developments!

    1. Where’s the like button!

      In comparison to other airlines like Loganair, who haven’t been been perfect, but have converted two planes to be used as air ambulances with isolation pods. The people from the Scottish Highlands and Islands and Scot Gov won’t (or shouldn’t!) forget that when things open up again.

      PS don’t work for Loganair – just think a company’s actions in times of crisis is important!

    2. I applaud you Joe.
      Please stick to it, even if it means changes, you’ll have better journeys and almost certainly save money (net) by transferring your business to other carriers unless BA revert to delivering a competitive product and treating their staff and customers with some basic respect.

  10. The Covid-19 virus is, apparently, 0.2microns in size. The best surgical mask is approx 5 microns. Most “Amazon” masks are 20+ microns. Masks are ineffective to stop C19. Its basic science rather than personal opinion. Does anyone know if the USA JFK has a confirmed 14 day quarantine at the moment. I’m on a BA flight Wednesday 3rd June.

  11. Good on British airways I don’t want to be sat on the aircraft with a stupid mask on . Let’s just move on and while we are on the subject do away with this 2 metre rule . All the other countries are less than that. We need this country back on its feet and not held back by the HS shackles.

  12. We have the ability (although we are losing it a little at a time) to make choices. You won’t fly with them. I will. Why do you have to shame people who disagree with you? Now I need to make a choice if I want to continue to read and follow you. Makes me sad that you would try to guilt people and use those tactics.

    1. Do, don’t, your choice. You’re not risking anyone’s health by following or unfollowing, unlike the example of air travel, where we are confined to tight spaces where reducing how far particles from your mouth fly can be quite important. I respect your choice as to how you spend your free time at home, but I certainly don’t want to endanger anyone on a plane by not following logical guidelines which despite imperfections do save lives.

  13. personally don’t think mask will make any difference whatsoever..plane is safe to travel, there was no outbreak in the planes and only single staff members were recorded with infection – but nobody can prove where they got it?..plane, airport, street, shop? on the other hand can’t see the point to do any long haul flight in first or business class if there is zero service and basically no food or drink ( except for cheese sandwich and bottled water )..waste of time and money; i am talking about “non essential” trips

  14. Gilbert, I understand and respect your view with regards face masks but they can also mean the wearer is at a higher risk of contracting the disease. The masks can be uncomfortable for the wearer and this leads to the wearer touch their faces much more than they would normally do and so heighten the risk along with allowing the wearer to have a false sense of protection. I work within the public transport industry in the UK and I watch people wearing masks incorrectly and others constantly playing with their masks and faces.
    This can lead to a greater risk of mask wearers contracting Covid-19 and then passing on to others.
    Also masks should be worn for short periods before being replaced and must be immediately replaced if they become damp/ moist. This then leads to more touching of faces and the risk this brings as explained above.
    Everyone must assess risks themselves but washing hands regularly and/ or using alcohol based hand sanitiser along with social distancing are the best method to protect yourself at the present time.

    1. Steve, makes sense. I guess that’s perhaps where education will go a long way as to helping people understand not to touch, to carry a second mask etc.

      Would you agree masks with regular hygiene like disinfecting hands and wiping surfaces is better than just the latter?

      I think the thing is that without the ability to socially distance yourselves, masks seem to do more good than harm, if worn and used correctly.

      1. Masks are a very good way of a person avoiding passing on the virus as it offers some protection to droplets given by the wearer making their way to another person. This would be lost though if that wearer also touched their faces regularly or did not wash their hands after touching their masks as the virus may well transfer to the persons fingers and this could lead to contamination of touch points etc.
        You are right in that education of how to use any PPE effectively will help massively but wearing masks, gloves etc does not mean that the wearer does not have to continue to follow the washing hands/gloves, social distancing etc policies.
        People need to be aware of the dangers and how to mitigate their own risks but I think people need to decide whether they put themselves in certain scenarios too. You have decided flying with people wearing masks as mandatory is at a point you feel risk is small enough to fly with. Others will say no to flying and/or visiting other countries but also, people will feel testing at airports/ before travel is enough to allow them to believe that their risk is now low enough to travel.
        Everyone will set their own level where they feel the risk has lowered to a level they feel happy to fly. It is not wrong for each individual to set their risk unless the government/WHO advise states otherwise.
        As a travel blogger you are welcome to state your case to what you believe is the minimum standard you feel is safe and we, as readers, can decide whether we feel the same or set our own standards.
        Keep giving us your thoughts Gilbert as this is what gets people talking about travel and we all need this until we can start to travel again.

  15. I have flown Delta twice in the last 4 weeks: once from GSP to Bradley in Connecticut (and back) and up to Detroit from CLT (and back) :all business related: In all cases Delta gate agents and flight attendants are ALLOWING maskless passengers (who all most seem to be young inconsiderate males) to board when there are specific posts when buying a ticket that you must wear a mask. When GAs and FAs are asked, everyone offers the company line: that you cant force anyone to wear a mask to which I reply what is the difference between wearing a seatbelt and a mask? And then they ALL say some people have medical reasons, to which I reply then they should be able to produce a DOCTORS EXCUSE. Delta’s 2 faced attitude is inexcusable!!!! I have written twice to Delta, once to my US Senators {Graham and Scott) and the FAA….why doesn’t someone somewhere just get the FAA to make it a RULE to board a plane???

  16. I used to think masks were only effective if they they filtered particles down to 0.1 microns. However, if even homemade masks could reduce the chance of spread by 50%, even that 50% could potentially save lives. So now I also believe airlines shd mandate wearing masks onboard. Moreover, Corona virus can also leave behind heart, lung, and liver damage even in cases where patients survive.

  17. Gilbert, and I voice my displeasure and sadness when we have to shame people into submission. Gilbert you are shaming when you declare someone responsible for a death: Would you feel guilty if you were asymptomatic but gave someone covid on a plane and they died? Again, you are above that, or so I thought. Make your point but don’t insinuate people are murderers if they chose to not wear a mask, because that IS what you are doing.

  18. Arrived into London today from Miami on AA38. The economy cabin looked pretty busy, premium economy was full, First was at 75% capacity the 8-seat forward business cabin was full but the main business cabin had just 24 of its 52 seats occupied. The vast majority of passengers wore masks but a few did not. I overheard the “I can’t wear a mask for medical reasons excuse” from one passenger and another passenger and his bags were offloaded causing a slight delay, but not sure why!

    Service was efficient and effective. Entire meal came out on a single tray. Drinks service was minimal.

    MIA was very quiet but not deserted. TSA was instant. LHR was very very quiet. No circling to land and no holdups at all, except for the biz class bags coming off quite late and after much coach luggage arrived on the belt.

    Good experience. Was very anxious about flying but with looming expiration of my US visa, had little choice. Only time will confirm that I didn’t catch the virus and even then, how could you pin it on the travel?

    No health checks or paperwork either end.

  19. Hi Gilbert,

    I totally agree and have voted with my money. On Friday I had two BA Club World RT tickets LAX-LHR-LIS queued up for late July to purchase when I looked at BA’s website for their latest pandemic update. When I saw that they were not specifically requiring mask wearing I Google searched for confirmation and discovered that it was only a suggestion. I instead purchased my tickets on Lufthansa LAX-FRA-LIS in Business Class for slightly more money, because they require masks onboard. I’m British Airways Executive Club Gold and would have earned a chunk of miles and tier points towards keeping my status but I don’t feel its worth it for the stress. I’ll return to BA when either the pandemic subsides or they require masks be worn onboard.

  20. Gilbert. While I usually don’t wear a mask I will do so on several upcoming international trips. That is my choice however and I will never choose to dictate my will on others. I don’t believe airlines should mandate the use of masks and give kudos to BA for not doing so. I am sick and tired of all of the mask shaming going on, brought on in the most part by the mainstream media. Please don’t contribute to that hysteria. You and your blog are above all of that nonsense. As for using hand sanitizer and bacterial wipes I am a big advocate and was doing so far before COVID 19 came around. That and hand washing is far more important than wearing a mask.

  21. The sad reality of this entire conversation, especially reading many of your comments that appear totally oblivious to the health and welfare of others on an airplane, is that I am increasingly more reluctant to get on a flight until the pandemic truly is abated and/or there is a consistent sense of caring and decency among the flying public. I certainly don’t see that decency here. I love to travel, but am not flying until the flying environment improves and a level of safety and service return.

  22. Spanish flu in 1918 went round the globe like wild fire, no planes in service at this point, cars were few and far between and population density not like it is now, this infected 1/3 of the global population and killed more a minimum of 20 million people, its unfortunately nature and to hold it back is incredibly difficult. Viruses can mutate like the wind changes direction i.e very quickly! If you actually care as much as you claim about other passengers and indeed people from other countries forget the face masks and stay at home until this has all passed which it will, history will tell you this!

  23. If you do wear a mask then make sure it’s a tight fitting / sealed one not some home made cloth thing. Quite a few studies have shown that simple masks result in air being expelled at high forces at the side and back of such masks with droplets travelling even further than they would normally. So I guess if you’re sat in economy and cough or sneeze you’re even more likely to infect those to your left and right should you indeed be infected but symptom free. Here’s one such study… https://www.ed.ac.uk/covid-19-response/latest-news/face-coverings-covid-19-transmission-risk

  24. As a medic, I would say these 2 lines encapsulate what you’ve said, really succinctly, accurately, and well.
    “If you were asymptomatic, but did have covid-19, would you feel bad if you gave it to someone who then died from it?
    Would you willingly sit next to someone who refuses to wear a mask, knowing they could infect you?”
    Anything not mandated by the governing bodies, leaves too much open to interpretation and therefore, open to abuse – see the Cummings debacle, and Bournemouth beach this last weekend, for example.
    Great stuff, Gilbert!

  25. Any talk about masks is worthless if it doesn’t specify what masks are used, how they are used and how often they are changed and disposed of.
    Outside of healthcare settings WHO make no advice to use “masks”, mostly because the masks that are seen, often rag masks, are incompetently worn and utterly useless.
    A fool believes that any old mask is a guarantee of eternal life, and those who wear them as a fetish display only a badge of ignorance.
    Some airlines get it right and don’t treat passengers like idiots by demanding compliance with empty gestures.

      1. Yeah, that’s right, you just stick with your 99 unqualified mates on facebook who spread their hysteria and quack remedies faster than any virus and ignore the international agency that might know more about this than you ever will.

  26. What a worthless article.
    These fashion masks which you will no doubt take on and off frequently during the course of a flight are at best a useless ornament and at worst a contaminated rag from which virus is spread whenever you breathe.
    Keep away from BA and other airlines for as long as you think that you are doing others a favor with this self righteous garbage.

  27. The IFR of Covid-19 is .36% (according to the first medical study going to PEER REVIEW).
    And they expect it to be lower than that for reasons they note
    https://www.uni-bonn.de/news/111-2020

    The CDC now says Covid-19 IFR is .24%
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html

    The flu IFR is .1-.13%

    Stanford and USC both had studies that project it to be .1-.26% (not Peer Reviewed)

    So, all of this is for something that is about the same deadliness as the flu, or at most, 3x.


    This is why people who try to shame others, or demand others do SOMETHING – are so disliked. They just avoid evidence and facts because it doesn’t fit the views they are trying to sell.

    If I had Covid-19 and went around and sneezed on every single person on a plane with 100 people.
    And they ALL got it.

    0 would die.
    Not a single fatality.

    Everyone screamed the sky was falling. And the media, bloggers and all these people who had things to sell, said OMG, it’s INSANE!!! Disaster!!!

    And they tell people not to protest (well, now it’s ok, but, before, it wasn’t ok)…
    Don’t work!!
    Don’t go outside!!!

    Stay inside and watch our news
    Stay inside and read our blogs
    Don’t fly !!!!
    And don’t have ANY fun!!

    Now? They just completely ignore the hard, medical data.
    Just ignore it.

    Gilbert – why not read a medical study. Why not read actual science.
    Facts don’t have an agenda, only people trying to make money off of them do….

  28. Its very simple. I only fly with airlines that dont force me to wear a mask and turn to normal as before. A normal flu kills more people every year. 25000 in germany 2017. so there is no reason to be more afraid now. Its home made panic by the bad media. Intelligent people know that. And you will see everything will change to the good the next months. No one will go shopping with his masks. No one will buy expensive First class tickets with these masks. So i hope soon we see go them away. Wake up people. Every day 2500 people are dieing. They are old and sick. Thats The way of life. We have to accept this and go on.

  29. The problem is, if they make masks mandatory, do they have to refund tickets purchased by anyone who bought them before they were made mandatory?

    In January I bought tickets to fly to Spain this September, and as of now, it looks like the flight is going. However I won’t be travelling on the plane if I have to wear a mask. As that wasn’t part of the original contract of carriage, must BA refund me if they now mandate that I wear a mask?

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