Some of the things that have changed in air travel as a result of COVID have been great from the passengers’ point of view. More space, cleaner planes, and better boarding are just some of the hidden benefits of the pandemic. However, masks are not so popular, but when can we expect them to come off?
What COVID measures will stick?
The aviation industry has invested much time, effort and money into adopting measures to prevent the spread of COVID via air travel. Some of these measures have been welcomed by passengers. Who doesn’t like flying with an empty middle seat? Or finding that your airline does staggered boarding, eliminating that pointless queue at the gate?
Others, however, have been less warmly received. The wearing of masks, in particular, is a divisive subject for many fliers, with a small sub-section of the population believing it’s an infringement on human rights. Most, however, have accepted the requirement, and those that haven’t have found a very low level of tolerance from their airline.
Despite the widespread acceptance of wearing masks, nobody can claim that they’re comfortable or pleasant. Particularly on longer-haul flights, having a face covering in place can become quite damp and disagreeable. With hopes of a vaccine on the horizon, could this spell the end of mask mandates in air travel?
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
When will the masks come off?
With news that the first UK residents have today started receiving the Pfizer-developed vaccine and more vaccines on the brink of being certified, could these people be allowed to fly mask-less? It seems not, and that, for now at least, we’ll need to continue to be patient with the mask issue onboard.
Speaking at a press briefing today, the CEO of the International Air Transport Association, Alexandre de Juniac, commented that masks would only disappear from planes when everyone is satisfied that the pandemic is 100% under control. He said,
“The obligation to wear masks, among [other measures] is one that should be removed when it is no longer necessary. It will be maintained as long as the Health Authority considers that the pandemic is not over, and that we need to maintain the protective measures that have been put in place.”
This means that, even when we get to the stage of having a large portion of the population vaccinated, masks could still be required for some time. Until various health authorities around the world decide that masks are no longer needed, they are likely to remain a feature on most commercial flights.
Everything should be removable
One of the big questions during the pandemic has been, of all the measures we’ve seen airlines taking, which ones will stick? Following guidance from ICAO and the Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), airlines have worked to improve the travel experience for all. De Juniac explained that, with everything that has been published by ICAO, the overarching principle was that all measures should be able to be removed later on. He said,
“At least one key principle … was that everything should be temporary and should be removed, when the necessity disappears, when the COVID-19 pandemic is solved or considered as something that is definitely under control.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything that has improved during COVID will go. Indeed, we could see permanent changes to things like boarding processes, aircraft cleanliness, and general health measures. While most of us will be glad to see the back of masks, there are some things that have happened due to COVID that we kinda hope sticks around for the long-haul.