Photo by Pille R. Priske on Unsplash

For a while today, it seemed as though passengers on-board Spanish flights would no longer be required to wear face masks for COVID protection. This followed a statement in parliament by the minister for transport, mobility and urban agenda, Raquel Sánchez, announcing an easing of requirements including the obligatory use of face masks on board aircraft. 

Sánchez said other health measures such as taking people’s temperature and maintaining distances in queues at airport control points would also end soon, although she didn’t confirm a date for the change.

After national media reported the news, the ministry rectified her initial statement, clarifying that face masks would still be required inside aircraft, but not in airport terminals.

This, in effect, is in line with the government’s decision in April to end the obligatory use of face masks in indoor areas including passenger terminals such as Corvera Airport Murcia.

Since then, health minister Carolina Davias has hinted that other measures – such as face mask requirements on public transport (including inside aircraft) – would also be eased but for the time being the government has opted for ongoing caution.

In May this year, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued an update to health safety measures for air travel, dropping the recommendation for mandatory wearing of medical masks in airports and on board a flight. 

They nevertheless noted that a face mask was still “one of the best protections against the transmission of COVID-19”, and left any decisions in the hands of individual airlines and countries (such as Spain) where mask-wearing is still required on public transport.

“From next week (16 May), face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” said EASA executive director Patrick Ky. “Passengers should, however, behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.” 

At the time, ECDC director Andrea Ammon added, “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner. The importance of these measures should continue to be effectively communicated to passengers for their safety.”

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