Masks on flights will be one of the last coronavirus restrictions to be dropped globally and could remain policy for years, experts have said.
Different rules around the world will make it “nigh-on impossible” for airlines to move individually in allowing passengers to travel without coverings.
Out is understood that UK carriers are seeking “international consistency” before changing the policy and will “act as one” when easing measures.
A senior aviation source said: “Until there is a harmonised lifting of mask mandates on flights by governments worldwide it is simpler for airlines to keep the rules in place.”
Neil Sorahan, Ryanair’s chief financial officer, said that there were no plans to change the rules. He said: “Masks will be something that will be with us for a while longer to come. If that is the price we have to pay for the next few months, into summer — it’s a small price to pay.”
Sorahan said that masks would linger in a similar way as rules on passengers removing liquids from hand luggage at security. The emergency measures were introduced in 2006 when police foiled a plot to blow up airliners using liquid explosives. They remain in force.
Most British airlines are following guidelines from bodies including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which say that masks should be worn for the duration of flights, except when eating and drinking.
When international travel resumed after the first lockdowns airlines initially feared they were going to have to fly with vacant middle seats. It was decided that masks offered enough protection.
An airline source said: “A bit like supermarkets, we’ll almost certainly keep the same policy until it is safe to move. For example, the rules in the US are very clear on masks. It would be ridiculous of us to ask passengers to put them on when we enter their airspace.”
Another source said that although there were “hopes that one day we will have a world with no masks . . . they are going to be with us for a long time”.