The United Kingdom announced some big travel-related changes this week.
Just days after the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) decided to extend the federal transportation mask mandate for another month, two major British airlines and London’s Heathrow Airport revealed plans to make masks optional for passengers and crew on certain flights, effective March 16. That joint announcement followed news that the United Kingdom would scrap all its remaining travel restrictions, starting March 18.
Masking on a route-by-route basis
The airlines that have announced mask-optional flying include British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. However, it’s not a total free-for-all—it’s limited to travel to destinations where masks aren’t required. Masks are still required on flights to and from the United States per the TSA’s federal mask mandate.
“This policy will be introduced gradually, beginning with our Caribbean services from Heathrow and Manchester airports,” Virgin Atlantic’s chief customer and operations officer Corneel Koster said in a press release.
Koster’s counterpart at British Airways, Jason Mahoney, said in the same statement that his company was “working through” each country’s requirements. Some places, like the United States, require masks on flights into and out of the country. So, even if you’re flying on British Airways to the U.K., if your departure airport is in the U.S., you’ll have to wear a mask for the entirety of the flight.
Because each country has its own laws in place surrounding masking, there’s potential for confusion for both fliers and airlines. How exactly that will be mitigated isn’t yet clear. But, routes on which the masking requirement will definitely remain include those to and from Delhi, India; Islamabad, Pakistan; Hong Kong; Johannesburg, South Africa; Lahore, Pakistan; Lagos, Nigeria; Mumbai, India; Shanghai, China; and Tel Aviv, Israel, according to Virgin Atlantic.
U.K. lifting all remaining COVID travel restrictions
Effective March 18, the final few coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in the U.K.
Travelers will be able to enter without a negative COVID test. (Vaccinated travelers have been able to do this since February, but unvaccinated travelers were made to test before departure and again on day two after arrival.)
Similarly, travelers will no longer need to fill out Passenger Locator Forms to enter Britain. The news was announced by Britain’s Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps via Twitter.
The other U.K. nations (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) have agreed to follow England’s lead on coronavirus border measures, albeit warily in some cases.
In a statement, the Scottish government expressed “concerns over the lack of border control measures” but added that “given the negative impact of non-alignment on the tourism industry, alignment was reluctantly agreed on a four nation basis.”