British Airways has finally updated its guidance on the wearing of face masks and is now telling passengers to wear a mask from the moment they arrive at the airport to when they disembark the plane at their destination. The airline had previously been a rare outlier in not mandating the use of face masks for either passengers or crew in the face of the threat posed by the novel Coronavirus and calls from industry leaders recommending their use in airports and on aircraft.
British Airways had previously faced criticism for operating full flights, without any form of social distancing, where neither crew or passengers were wearing face masks. While a spokesperson says that face masks and other Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) have always been made available for its cabin crew, the airline will only now make the wearing of masks mandatory for all customer-facing staff.
The same rules, however, won’t apply to passengers who will not be denied boarding if they refuse to wear a mask. Cabin crew have also been told they cannot do anything if passengers refuse to comply with the guidance once they are onboard the plane, including preventing them from moving around the cabin and entering crew work areas where social distancing is meant to be maintained.
Several U.S.-based airlines, including American, Delta and United Airlines, faced ridicule when they introduced mandatory passenger face mask policies only for it to turn out that flight attendants could not prevent passengers taking off their masks once they were onboard and the plane had left the gate.
All three carriers did, however, say passengers would be denied boarding at the gate if they didn’t wear a mask and could be offloaded if the plane was still at the gate. Meanwhile, Lufthansa changed its general conditions of carriage in the last few days to reinforce its mandatory face mask policy.
While there’s still a lively debate as to whether face masks can actually protect the wearer or others around them from COVID-19, the mandatory face mask policy has won support from across the aviation industry. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says face masks are a key part of a layered set of biosecurity measures to restart the air travel industry and restore confidence in the safety of flying.
The European Air Transport Agency (EASA) and the UN’s civil aviation organisation have also backed face masks in updated guidance which calls for crew and passengers to wear the PPE when social distancing can’t be maintained. British Airways says it will sell every available seat and will not block middle seats to provide some form of social distancing.
In addition to asking passengers to wear a face mask, British Airways have also introduced a slew of other measures, including:
- Asking passengers not to move around the aircraft cabin
- Removing newspapers and magazines from onboard its planes
- Only serving pre-packaged snacks to reduce the amount of time crew spend in the aisles serving passengers
- Installing distance markers in its airports
- Requesting that customers make use of self-check-in and bag drop
The airline did not say whether it would provide masks for passengers who forget to bring their own with them. While British Airways says passengers should bring enough masks to change every four hours, the airline could not immediately say whether spares would be stocked as per EASA guidance.
Industry experts clearly think mandatory face mask policies are absolutely essential for the safe restart of international flying but not all of BA’s passengers agree. Some have resisted the call for face masks and even said they would choose to fly with an airline that didn’t make them wear one. If that’s the case, British Airways’ new policy should give them enough leeway.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.