The European Union will no longer require face masks to be worn at airports and on planes starting next week amid the easing of coronavirus restrictions across the bloc, authorities said Wednesday.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency said it hoped the joint decision, made with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, would mark “a big step forward in the normalization of air travel” for passengers and crews.
The new guideline “takes account of the latest developments in the pandemic, in particular the levels of vaccination and naturally acquired immunity, and the accompanying lifting of restrictions in a growing number of European countries,” the two agencies said in a joint statement.
“Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said. “And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”
While the new recommendations take effect on May 16, rules for masks may still vary by airline beyond that date if they fly to or from destinations where the rules are different.
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control director Andrea Ammon said washing hands and social distancing should still be practiced, but airport operators are advised not to impose distancing requirements if these are likely to lead to a bottleneck.
The agencies also recommended that airlines keep systems for collecting passenger locator information on standby in case they are needed in future, for example if a new dangerous variant emerges.
The requirement to wear masks on planes has been in place for about two years. It has occasionally led to disputes between passengers and airlines. German carrier Lufthansa last week kept a large group of Jewish travelers from boarding a plane because some had refused to wear masks. The airline has since apologized for the incident.
The decline in reported COVID-19 cases over the past weeks has prompted countries across Europe to roll back pandemic-related restrictions.
The German government said Wednesday that it was disbanding a crisis task force appointed to lead the official response.
The French government announced separately Wednesday that people will no longer have to wear face masks in any forms of public transport starting from Monday.
Health Minister Olivier Veran, speaking after a cabinet meeting, said that the decision is part of policies to lift most restrictions as the pandemic is slowing down in the country.
French authorities reported this week about 39,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 each day on average, down by 30 percent compared to last week. The numbers of patients in hospitals have also been steadily decreasing in recent weeks.
Wearing face masks will no longer be needed in metros, buses, and trains or on domestic flights. It is still requested in hospitals and nursing homes, Veran said.
France lifted most coronavirus restrictions in March.