Coronavirus: Do travellers need face masks on planes and trains? What are the rules?

4 May 2020, 15:25

Which airlines are telling people to wear masks when they travel and which aren't?
Which airlines are telling people to wear masks when they travel and which aren't? Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

Airlines and airports are demanding that passengers wear face masks in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

New guidelines are set to be rolled out to protect the aviation industry from becoming a hotbed for infections after lockdown measures ease.

Industry leaders also fear that passengers could be put off booking seats if strict hygiene and social distancing measures are not in force.

The stricken sector has seen British Airways announce plans to axe 12,000 jobs, while British inter-city carrier FlyBe collapsed in March.

Airlines bring in new rules

Budget airline Wizz Air, which has resumed flights from London Luton to some European destinations, is the first British airline to introduce face masks.

The carrier said it has also rolled out social distancing measures for passengers while boarding, is giving passengers and crew hand sanitising wipes and will disinfect aircraft overnight.

From Monday, US airline Delta is requiring travellers to wear a face covering from the check-in area throughout the terminal and the whole flight.

Meanwhile, aviation giants American Airlines and United have set compulsory face mask rules for passengers and cabin crew as a temporary measure while flights are resumed.

Kurt Stache, a spokesman for American Airlines, said: “We are looking out for our customers’ well-being to give them peace of mind while they travel with us.

“We’re moving quickly on these enhancements and we’ll continue to improve the travel experience for our customers and team members as we navigate these times together.

Maddie King, a spokeswoman for United Airlines, added that mandatory face masks would be provided to passengers for free.

UK airports call for new guidelines

But many other airlines and airports are yet to bring in such rules, with scientific opinion torn on the effectiveness of face coverings.

World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance states masks can create a false sense of security, adding: “The wide use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence and carries uncertainties and critical risk.”

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said face coverings “will be useful” as the UK exits lockdown.

Heathrow airport is urging the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the International Civil Aviation Organisation to set out a “common international standard for safe air travel”.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG) which owns Manchester, East Midlands and Stansted airports, is set to outline “various new safety measures” this week, with reports suggesting they could include face coverings in terminal buildings.

An MAG spokesperson said: “They are designed to help the small number of passengers currently making essential journeys through our airports feel safer and more confident about flying at this time.”

Airlines introduce other measures

Easyjet has announced it is leaving middle seats free to keep up social distancing.

Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, criticised the middle seat ban but hinted at face coverings, with a spokesperson adding: “We need effective health measures that work, such as wearing face masks and/or monitoring body temperature.”

Train travel

It comes after Eurostar said passengers would be required to wear face masks when service resumes on May 4.

The international train operator says any type of face protection is allowed "as long as it effectively covers your nose and mouth”, and those who refuse could not be allowed to travel.

Other train companies are yet to announce such measures.