Let me start with some kindness and softness for British Airways and the wider travel industry at large, because we won’t end there. I really do have a large soft spot for just about everything regarding travel right now.
From people adjusting to their first trip back after two years staying home, to airlines and hotels trying to keep up with ever changing and frustrating government mandates, I feel for the uncertainty.
Many of the problems being faced, like changing restrictions, are outside of their own control and that’s never fun to deal with that. That’s enough of the politeness, though.
This week, British Airways colossally screwed up its mask policy in a way that’s almost special — and requires effort to botch to such a level. It’s almost proprietarily bad.
To the very moment of writing this, the most recent relevant tweet from the airline explicitly says that from March 16th masks are optional “to all destinations where the advice is clear” and even features a video, now viewed well over a million times with a mask being ripped off.
Only, it’s not. Flying yesterday, that’s wasn’t at all the case on board. Well, maybe it is for some — every flight seems to be different. Crews have no clue what to expect, pilots are totally confused and that leaves passengers with absolutely no chance to comply.
I couldn’t be remotely mad at those who didn’t wear masks on my Friday flight. If I didn’t have a non-Covid cold, I would’ve joined them. There were no announcements about masks made on the flight, but friends on other London bound flights did hear them. It’s an impossible mess, which paints British Airways in an ironic position.
The Wonderful Irony
For nearly two years, British Airways rightfully upped its rhetoric toward government incompetence in regards to travel during the pandemic. Regime change, the concept of constant change being bad for confidence — and therefore business — was a key focus.
Time after time, governments announced one thing in regards to travel, then almost overnight pulled a total u-turn, a bizarre twist to restrictions, or added new testing and isolation rules. Or just flat out refused to follow science.
I dealt with most of those iterations and even when it’s kinda your job, they weren’t easy to keep up with. I felt for British Airways, like all other airlines impacted. And here we have British Airways, now being guilty of the exact same thing.
Confusion is the operating principle for BA’s mask policy right now, both internally and externally for passengers. That’s just terrible.
I Asked British Airways Employees About Masks
British Airways still has tweets and social media videos saying masks are optional on flights where destinations don’t require them. For sure, that would mean all flights to the UK, where all Covid-19 restrictions, both domestic and otherwise, are gone.
If you visit the BA website specifically searching for mask policies — and only if you now specifically search — you get to a contradiction of that forward facing policy completely.
For amusement, I asked many of the people I know at the airline, from executive level team members to airport staff a simple question: does anyone know the official British Airways mask policy? The answers, which aren’t worth quoting, were basically “nope”.
And for that matter, I have no idea if I was supposed to wear a mask on the flight just the other day, or any of the people who never bothered were supposed to as well. Like I said, I did, but many didn’t and I don’t even care.
For the first time, there was no announcement from the crew about masks, but maybe that was because the flight was nearly 4 hours delayed taking off and there were larger fish to fry.
How Are Customers Expected To Keep Track?
Honestly, without a singular official resource confirming the routes and destinations where masks are expected on British Airways, and where they’re not, this would be comical if it wasn’t such a serious, nerve wracking issue to people.
Airlines finally got in the game of highlighting accurate and up to date travel resources for entry requirements like vaccination proof or testing, but by going it alone on mask protocol, British Airways has created its own cottage industry of worry.
No one wants to be “that person” ignoring the rules — even if the rules are dumb — and if people like myself, or employees at the airline can’t quite decipher the current rules, it’s a special moment.
Whether it’s mandated or not, it’s clear that many flight crews are over it, passengers are too, and why British Airways would pull a complete u-turn only hours after the big announcement in unison with Heathrow and Virgin Atlantic is odd.
Maybe a big corporate customer threw a fit? Or a foreign government did?
It may not be British Airways’ fault for continuing to mandate masks. Maybe it’s even a good thing they do, but it is their fault for telling customers they weren’t, then hiding a message saying they are, and creating a situation where no one knows.
I wrote about what a mess this could be for airlines if they didn’t get it right on both timing and messaging before the policy was announced. Many thousands of readers read that, and maybe a few other people should’ve too.