Compulsory wearing of facemasks on flights to and within Europe is to be scrapped.
The move, under which masks will also no longer be required at airports, was welcomed as “a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel”, by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (Easa).
The policy, announced by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, takes effect on Monday and is expected to boost demand for summer holidays. It is also hoped that the change will end the confusion about which flights require masks.
Ryanair, which is Europe’s biggest airline, said it would scrap masks on all its flights. All the main British airlines, including BA and easyJet, have already eased mask rules on flights to the UK. However, where a destination requires masks, passengers are still being told to cover their faces.
The safety agency and disease control centre are continuing to advise passengers that masks offer “one of the best protections” against Covid.
Patrick Ky, the Easa executive director, said: “It is a relief to all of us that we are finally reaching a stage in the pandemic where we can start to relax the health safety measures.”
At least 15 European countries, including Greece and Italy, still require masks on public transport, although the number is expected to fall rapidly, according to Eddie Wilson, Ryanair’s chief executive.
Virtually all European countries have ditched passenger locator forms, but Spain, Austria and Germany still require unvaccinated passengers to complete one.
Tests for fully vaccinated passengers have all but been abolished, although some countries require a booster jab. The UK scrapped tests for all arrivals and discontinued its passenger locator form in March, one of the first in Europe to do so.
From Monday France will drop its requirement to wear face coverings on public transport, Olivier Véran, the health minister has announced.
Airlines and airports are lobbying officials in the US to drop pre-departure tests for vaccinated passengers, a move that would be expected to boost tourism and ease delays at airports.
Fears of disruption at airports this summer remain after long queues were reported at Manchester and Birmingham airports this week, although officials insist that they are working hard to solve the problems.
Speaking at the Airport Operators Association annual dinner in London on Tuesday, Karen Dee, the chief executive, said: “While the majority of people will have travelled without any problem, we do acknowledge that it’s not always been possible to deliver the kind of smooth experience that passengers have come to expect from us.”
She insisted that airports were working “really hard” to recruit and vet staff before the peak summer holidays, adding: “While UK restrictions have thankfully fallen away, a significant proportion of our long-haul flights have not yet returned and, in other places, Covid-related additional checks continue prior to departure. This has been a contributory factor in some of the disruption in airports particularly over the Easter school holidays.”
Heathrow announced that five million passengers travelled through its terminals in April, a 848 per cent rise on last year when there were tight restrictions.