AviationEven airlines are puzzled by rules governing onboard masks, so pity the poor passengers.

Confused by mask rules for flying? You’re not alone

IATA is calling for consistency across the aviation sector involving the mask mandate.
IATA is calling for consistency across the aviation sector involving the mask mandate. Photo Credit: GettyImages/petovarga

For travellers flying in or out of Australia in the next few weeks, get ready to be confused about mask wearing. Even the national airline, Qantas, is having a hard time giving passengers the correct information on when – or whether – they should be wearing masks, onboard or at the airport.

Confusing? You bet.

Passengers flying on Qantas direct routes out of Australia to Rome do not need to wear a mask. But coming the other way, you better unpack a mask and put it on before flight attendants pounce on you with a reminder about the rules – opaque as they are.

Australia still requires passengers flying into the country to wear a mask, something which Qantas is fighting hard to change.

Here’s another example of mask rules confusing flyers: Passengers flying from Sydney to London via Singapore, need to wear a mask on the leg to Singapore, but not on the way to London.

Masks have been scrapped on some flights from Australia to the US, UK and Italy, but they remain mandatory on all domestic flights.

Australia is scrapping the requirements for masks at its airports but, here again, passengers are being advised “to keep a mask at hand as they are still required in some settings”.

Qantas says it is continuing to push for uniform rules. "Given the different rules in different jurisdictions overseas, as well as for domestic flights in Australia and now at airports, we appreciate some of our customers may find mask requirements confusing, particularly when they have connecting flights," a Qantas statement said.

Professor Jaya Dantas from Curtin University’s School of Population Health believes passengers shouldn’t stop wearing masks: “It’s not about the quality of the plane air, it’s about people being in close proximity for extended periods of time.

“Even if the mandate is lifted, people wanting to protect themselves should wear a mask, especially on full flights. Just as we carry a jacket, we should be carrying a mask too.”

IATA is pushing for a uniform approach, arguing jurisdictions keeping mask requirements present a challenge for airlines and passengers flying between destinations with different requirements.

“We believe that mask requirements on board aircraft should end when masks are no longer mandated in other parts of daily life, for example theatres, offices or on public transport,” IATA says.

Airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are scrapping masks on flights, but passengers will be required to wear a mask on the carriers’ flights if their destination requires it.

KLM is scrapping masks, one of the reasons being “serious incidents with unruly passengers”.

Following the removal of the federal mask mandate in the US in April, all US-based airlines have now removed the obligation for passengers to wear a mask. The EU has also lifted the mask mandate for air travel in May.

In Asia, most airlines – including Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines – are sticking with government health authority advice and continue to enforce masks rules onboard and at the airport.

Our advice: Pack a mask and be ready to use it.

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