Starting May 16, passengers will no longer be required to mask up on board, but rules may still continue to vary by airline.
Advertisement

Face masks will no longer be required on European airlines next week after the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said it was dropping the pandemic-era protocol.

Starting May 16, passengers will no longer be required to mask up on board, but rules may still continue to vary by airline, the agency said in a statement. Despite the decision, which was jointly made with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the groups still recommend passengers wear a mask as "a face mask is still one of the best protections against the transmission of COVID-19."

"The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants," ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said in the statement. "While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission."

Exceptions to the new European rule will remain like flights to or from destinations where masks are still required on public transportation.

A woman with wheeled luggage walking at the airport and texting without a facemask
Credit: martin-dm/Getty Images

The decision comes as several airlines across Europe and the United Kingdom have already dropped mask rules on planes and in airports, including British Airways, KLM, Norwegian, Icelandair, and SAS.

Last month, airlines in the United States did the same after a federal judge in Florida voided the federal transportation mask mandate. The Department of Justice has since appealed the decision at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the weeks since, the CDC reiterated its recommendation that passengers wear a mask on planes and several U.S. airlines have reminded travelers of their cancellation policies if they feel uncomfortable flying without mandatory face coverings.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.