At this stage in the coronavirus pandemic, wearing a mask has become standard protocol for fliers. In the United States, all the major airlines not only require masks but also rigorously enforce their policies. And now, it’s required by U.S. federal law to wear a mask in airports and while flying, with very limited exceptions, including for children under two and for brief periods while eating, drinking or taking medication. Sleeping, however, is not considered an exception, at least not according to the most recent mask order issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It is, however, now considered an exception for passengers flying in first and business class on Cathay Pacific when they are lying flat to sleep, according to a recent update from the Hong Kong–based carrier. (AFAR asked the CDC whether the recent mask order applies to foreign carriers flying into or out of the U.S., and had not heard back by press time.)
“The latest additional guidelines are designed to help our crew understand the circumstances under which mask wearing is exempted,” Cathay Pacific said in a statement sent to AFAR. “Passengers are required to wear masks at all times except during the short period when they are eating and drinking, and when proper social distancing cannot be maintained. Seats in first and business class are more spacious with partitions, and passengers are exempted when lying flat for sleep.”
In addition to having more space and partitions in business and first class, Cathay Pacific emphasized that the carrier’s aircraft are also equipped with hospital-grade high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that help to filter airborne contaminates such as viruses and bacteria.
So, is Cathay Pacific the only airline making this exception for customers at the front of the plane? Well, back in June, Qatar Airways issued a press release stating that “business class customers are asked to wear their face shield and mask onboard at their own discretion, as they enjoy more space and privacy.” At least one first-person account of flying in the Qatar Airways Qsuite business-class seats indicated that PPE could come off once in your seat.
But when asked about its inflight mask policy, Qatar Airways told AFAR that the carrier does require masks to be worn “by all passengers, regardless of seat for the entirety of their flight unless they have a specific exemption with documentation or are children under six.”
The exemption refers to passengers who have a health certificate indicating that they cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition.
Qatar Airways provides passengers with a protective kit that includes a face mask and hand sanitizer, and the crew wear masks, protective glasses, gloves, and PPE suits. Back in July, the airline became the first to also require and provide face shields in addition to face masks to passengers upon boarding. Face shields are no longer mandatory, but passengers can request them if they wish to wear them.