an airplane wing in the sky

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.

a large airplane flying over a runway

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.

a sign with flags on it

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.

an airplane wing with clouds in the background

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.

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...

Join the Conversation


  1. What? The virus is still out there. “In It’s Fine BA, Don’t Mandate Face Masks, I Just Won’t Fly With You,” your song was certainly different.
    Masks didn’t work then (obviously) and they still don’t work, but all of you cheerleaders back then wouldn’t listen. If anyone said “masks don’t work” then the cancel idiots started whining. Now, we’re stuck with masks. In the USA, masks are forever, like taking off your shoes.

    1. Again, I’d like to make any wager you’d like on masks. You’re too bearish here. At the time that I wrote about BA’s masks there was far less hope and scientific evidence that we could get out of this without further issues. Boosters weren’t around and effective masks were proving effective.

  2. It’s a real mess. They need to clarify. Either masks are required or they aren’t. It’s not that complicated. I do think one point in your post is a bit confusing where you say “I couldn’t be remotely mad at those who didn’t wear masks on my Friday flight.” Why would you get “mad” at anyone not wearing a mask on a flight? You are willing (without a cold not to wear a mask) at this point so why would it make a person mad if they didn’t. I don’t mean this to be snarky it just comes out in a strange way in writing. Maybe you meant something along the lines of “It’s not like I was going to be mad at someone on a flight without a mask”.

  3. Well, this is interesting, I booked BA to London next week on the basis that they had removed mask requirements. What fun and jolly japes.

  4. Apart from the mask issue, when is British Airways going to open up it’s customer services phone lines again. It’s impossible to speak to anyone about compensation claims or anything else for that matter. All they do is cut you off and say the lines are closed to protect their colleagues. From what? Last time I looked, you couldn’t catch Covid through a telephone line!!

  5. BA’s website that you link to very clearly says masks are only required where the destination requires it, elsewhere they’re optional. I’d probably take that as the official source.

    1. But that’s not what’s happening on board. Flights to LHR are being told they must mask up, as noted in the article. Hence, the issue.

      1. Isn’t current US policy to mask up on all flights arriving OR departing in the US, regardless of origin or destination? If this is the case, they could absolutely be banned from flying to/from the US even if the noncompliance occurs while a flight is in a foreign country or over international waters. Other countries may have similar rules.

  6. I will not fly BA until such time as they have a mask mandate and they enforce it. In US, still have 30k new cases a day and 1200/dead each day. And 7 million people who are immuno compromised. I’m one of them. The “no maskers” are typically the flat earth folks who said covid was a hoax. Sure it was.

  7. Was on a BA flight from Italy back to LCY yesterday – we were all told on the plane that masks must be worn at all times, including when resting or sleeping.

  8. Flew into LHR this morning from Santiago, Chile on BA. No announcements made at all about masks. Most people in Club were wearing masks when moving around but generally not when sitting or sleeping.

  9. I feel your pain Gilbert. this was the best news coming but fli-flopping like Thailand is frustrating

  10. On a completely different subject, just another BA nightmare, they just arbitrarily cancelled our September flight booking for this September. It was made with a voucher from a previously BA cancelled flight. Notification arrived in an email on March 11th notifying me that the booking had been cancelled and our FF miles and payment were being refunded. I called the next day to say that I had not requested and did not want the flights cancelled as a cruise, hotels and other bookings had been made and paid for based on this booking. I was told that the BA “Global Engagement Centre” had made the decision to cancel and refund the flight and there was nothing I could do but accept the refund and re-book. Since by now all the seats in the Business Class on the flights I need had gone, There was also nothing available in dates close to my original booking. The agent I spoke with directed me to call Customer Relations, there I was told they could not help and directed my to call the Executive Club number. Again I was told not their department and given another number to call. I was on hold for hours for every cal and finally received the message that all lines were busy and I would need to call back later. I submitted a written complaint on the BA website on March 12th, which has also received no response. I imagine this has happened to many other customers who accepted vouchers instead of a refund when the original flights were cancelled.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *