British Airways, Virgin Atlantic scrap face mask rule

British Airways and Virgin will not be required to wear masks from tomorrow Both airlines said they believe their customers should have ’personal choice’

 British Airways customers will only need to wear a face-covering onboard flight if their destination requires it, while Virgin Atlantic said it would be ‘gradually’ removing compulsory mask rules from tomorrow – starting with Caribbean flights from London and Manchester.

The airlines welcomed the move after Heathrow announced they would be scrapping mandatory face coverings for passengers from March 16 amid the ‘continued success of the vaccine’ and as society ‘learns to live with Covid long-term’.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes will allow ‘greater freedom in time for Easter’ and will mean ‘you can travel just like in the good old days.

British Airways

Heathrow said they ‘strongly encourage’ those at the airport to continue wearing a face-covering – particularly when coming into close contact with others – although this will no longer be a firm requirement.

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The change will take effect in all of Heathrow’s terminals, rail stations and office buildings.

Corneel Koster, chief customer and operating officer at Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘As we learn to live with Covid and with the legal requirement to wear a face mask now removed in England, we believe our customers should have the personal choice whether to wear a mask onboard on routes where international regulations around mask-wearing do not apply.’

He added masks will be required on most services, including those to or from the United States until April 18 ‘at the earliest’.

Jason Mahoney, British Airways’ chief operating officer, said the move was ‘welcome’ and a positive step forward.

He said: ‘As an international airline, we fly to a large number of countries around the world, all of which have their own local restrictions and legal requirements.

‘For destinations where the wearing of a face covering is not mandated, our customers are able to make a personal choice, and we kindly request everyone respects each other’s preferences.’

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It comes as Jet2 became the first UK airline to drop the requirement for travellers to wear masks onboard their planes from and to England and Northern Ireland.

Tui has also dropped its rules on masks on flights with immediate effect, becoming the biggest operator in Britain to do so.

Julia Simpson, president and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said: ‘Other countries ditched passenger locator forms weeks ago but it is good news the UK Government has now scrapped all travel restrictions for coming to the UK.

‘If we are to compete on a world stage we need to be ‘open for business and not ask people to fill in lengthy forms.’

In a statement, Heathrow’s Chief Operating Officer Emma Gilthorpe said: ‘We have worked hard to keep our passengers and colleagues safe during the pandemic.

‘We acted quickly to institute face coverings as one of our first lines of defence, and we’re pleased that we’re now able to move away from a mandatory requirement as society learns to live with COVID longer term.

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‘While we still recommend wearing them, we can be confident the investments we’ve made in COVID-secure measures – some of which aren’t always visible – combined with the fantastic protection provided by the vaccine will continue to keep people safe while travelling.

Virgin Atlantic

‘We’re gearing up for a busy summer travel season, and this change means we can look forward to welcoming our passengers back with a smile as we get them safely away on their journeys.’

The Airport Operators Association (AOA), the trade association for UK airports, said ‘restriction-free travel is good news for passengers’.

Wole Shadare