Dutch airline KLM will now require passengers to present both a negative COVID-19 test certificate and a doctors note if they claim they can’t wear a face mask onboard one of its flights. Face masks have been compulsory for both passengers and crew since May 11 but children under the age 10, as well as passengers with certain medical conditions, have been exempted from the rule.
The problem, as many other airlines have found, is that there’s no way to know whether someone claiming to have a medical exemption isn’t actually lying just to avoid the discomfort of wearing a mask for however long they might be on a plane.
The situation is even more complicated for KLM because the Netherlands has largely rejected the use of face masks, although they are mandatory on public transport because it’s so hard to observe social distancing. The reluctance of the Dutch to wear face masks though has made for awkward encounters for airline staff who have been asked to enforce rules that aren’t enforceable.
So KLM is now closing the medical exemption rule. From September 21, passengers who can’t wear a face mask for medical reasons will need to present a negative COVID-19 certificate dated within 72-hours of travel. They’ll also need to supply a signed doctors note at their own expense.
The exemption for children under the age of 10 remains unchanged.
Passengers who don’t have an exemption are expected to wear a specially designed non-medical covering or surgical mask that covers both the nose and mouth. Bandanas aren’t permitted and could result in denied boarding.
“For airlines, flying during the corona crisis means operating under exceptional circumstances,” KLM explained in a statement. “The current situation calls for a series of measures KLM is taking in order to safely and healthily carry out its operation for passengers and crew. The obligation to wear facial protection is part of this,” the statement continued.
Lufthansa introduced a similar pre-clearance rule on September 1. The requirement to present a negative test certificate and doctors note covers all of the airlines in the Lufthansa group including Austrian, SWISS and Brussels Airlines. The test must be dated within 48-hours of travel.
Over the last couple of months, airlines around the world have grappled with how to enforce face mask rules.
In the United States, Delta Air Lines asks medically exempt passengers to arrive at the airport early for a virtual consultation with one of its in-house medical team. If Delta’s on-call physician doesn’t agree with the passenger’s assessment that they shouldn’t wear a face mask then they don’t be allowed to fly.
More than 300 passengers have now been banned from future travel with the Atlanta-based airline for failing to comply with face mask rules.
Several airlines have taken an even more hardline approach to anti-maskers, with both American and United, as well as Alaska Airlines telling passengers even with a genuine medical exemption that they should stay home as they won’t be allowed to board.
At least one KLM passenger was fined €300 for refusing to comply with crew members instructions to wear a face mask on a flight to Amsterdam. In another high-profile incident, a man got in a fight with crew and passengers over his refusal to wear a mask on a KLM flight to Ibiza. The man was arrested by Spanish police on arrival on the popular holiday island.
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.