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British Airways reinstates face masks – and won’t say why

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Plot twist. According to reports, British Airways has had a last-minute change of heart and not removed the requirement to wear face masks.

The plan was to remove the requirement to wear masks, except for destinations where it is required by law, from today.

Heathrow Airport and Virgin Atlantic were also removing mask mandates from today.

British Airways backtracks on removal of face masks

It isn’t clear what is happening. Flyertalk posts from crew claim there are ‘compliance issues’ with removing the requirement for masks but the airline is not disclosing what these are.

All references to the removal of masks have disappeared from the BA website. The covid guidance pages still say that a mask is compulsory on all flights:

“Although UK rules are easing, here at British Airways like other airlines and airports, wearing face masks is still our policy. We’ll need you to wear a face mask in the airport and on board unless you are exempt. We have this policy to protect our most vulnerable customers and abide by the laws of countries around the world.

As a guide, a face mask could last up to four hours, so please make sure you bring enough for the duration of your trip. You will be asked to remove your mask for any passport checks, but you’ll be advised when to do so by our colleagues.

When you’re on board, you’re allowed to remove your face mask for a reasonable time to enable you to eat or drink. When you’re not consuming food or drink, your face mask must be placed back on and must cover your nose and mouth at all times.

British Airways reinstating face masks

What is going on?

It’s not clear.

BA is claiming on Twitter that nothing has changed despite what passengers are being told, despite what BA staff are saying in our own comments section below and despite the website changes:

The move to retain face coverings on public transport in Scotland for a further period – these were meant to have been scrapped next week – has obviously caused issues for passengers on flights to Scotland.

It is possible that it is linked to passengers connecting in London. Do passengers flying to some countries have to wear a mask for their entire trip? Perhaps the whole aircraft must be masked if one person is connecting? There are reports of passengers being told that a decision on masks can only be taken after boarding. If this is true, however, why has SAS not been impacted after dropping masks?

Whatever the issue is, it has not impacted Jet2, Tui or Virgin Atlantic which have already removed the requirement to wear face masks.

More if we get it. For now, you better keep that mask to hand, even though you won’t need it at Heathrow or Gatwick in the airport.


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Comments (237)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Kiran_mk2 says:

    Pretty hidden in the media because of the larger world events at the moment, but Covid infection rates are soaring again – up 50% over the last week as well as hospital admissions – up 20% over the last week. Looks especially bad in Scotland. Given the dropped requirement for testing I’m guessing the real case increase will be much higher. No doubt this is the combination of BA2 and a high percentage of the population thinking that the pandemic is over and dropping all precautions.

    • Rob says:

      The number of vaccinated people on ventilation for covid is probably under 100 though.

      • Kiran_mk2 says:

        True, but while dying from Covid is much rarer now (thankfully) , it wouldn’t surprise me if dying (or experiencing serious complications) from being unable to access treatment because so many hospital staff are off work / beds full / long waiting list really starts to mount up. I really hope I am wrong, but isn’t it something like 10% of the population are now on a wait list for NHS treatment now with the waiting lists estimate to take over 2 years to clear. Pretty intolerable if you are in constant pain but your condition is ‘not urgent’ I would imagine.

    • can says:

      Yes, but did they realise it only today? The increase in cases in the north was already there when BA announced the policy change.
      Also during the same time FT published the results of covid death risk lowering to almost to the risk of Influenza.

      “Pick your side and choose your evidence”

      • Kiran_mk2 says:

        Your probably correct – all the communications make this sound like a bureaucratic change/delay rather than a sign of a policy change.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Cases are irrelevant

    • John T says:

      Cases don’t matter. They will drop sharply as the UK stops testing soon anyway.

      Either hide behind the couch until you die, or move on with your life. The choice is yours.

      • Kiran_mk2 says:

        You are right that cases don’t really matter, but hospitalisations do as they take up precious NHS resources and these have been ticking up too. As they lag cases by a few weeks it seems likely that they will continue to tick up for the next few weeks.

        • J says:

          Hospitalisations caused by covid are going up? Or just hospitalisations with covid? Yes, as case numbers go up, the number of people admitted to hospital, for say, broken bones, who also happen to have covid will also increase…

        • TGLoyalty says:

          You’re stuck in 2020. They don’t lag behind cases because so few people are getting seriously Ill and it’s far more common that those in hospital with covid are there for something else.

          The only pressure on hospitals is through their isolation requirements for staff etc.

          • J says:

            @TGLoyalty – Exactly. Hospital admissions where patients had wet hair were likely far above average today. Doesn’t mean we need to mandate umbrellas!

    • Guy Incognito says:

      “Looks particularly bad in Scotland”. You mean the place that has had more restrictions and mandated mask-wearing whilst England removed it?

      Wonder if the penny will drop….

      • Kiran_mk2 says:

        Has anyone actually been on the ground in Scotland? I don’t imagine mask wearing was that much higher than England even with a mandate. Not saying this is correct, but would be interesting to know.

        • Andrew. says:

          Yes, was in Waitrose and a FAS outlet.

          100% mask wearing on both sides of the economic spectrum.

        • Mike says:

          Having been in Scotland recently, I can say the Scottish were being very good girls and boys and wearing their masks. Unfortunately, the incidence of COVID is much higher in Scotland this week than England.

    • Joe says:

      And this won’t end until all (well nearly all) of us have had omicron, so we may as well get it over with.

      • PhilS says:

        Just because you’ve had covid doesn’t mean you can’t catch it again.

  • AJA says:

    Oh well, back to wearing a face mask on my flight on Monday it is then! Although it is possible the policy will be clarified by then (not holding my breath) I will take some masks in my hand luggage just in case. Still looking forward to getting away though.

  • Jack says:

    BA now replying to queries on Twitter saying they haven’t reversed the decision and that the policy changed today as planned!

    • Nick says:

      As usual, a decision was made but no one told the Twitter team. It has definitely been reversed, just not sure why. Seems pretty serious to be honest, given who’s involved in the discussions.

    • Stu says:

      The very notion that BA replied to a tweet within 24 hours is beyond me!

  • Colin MacKinnon says:

    Ryanair said they would remove masks in a while… after consultation with staff.

    While the customer comes first, you also need the staff! Wonder if there has been a kickback from cabin crew?

    After all, it seems the mask protects others, not you?

    • merlin90 says:

      Certainly in the US the airline crews have been quite strongly in favour of retaining the in-flight mask mandate, as well as removing alcohol from economy sections of the plane (most airlines have now brought that back, I believe, although AA still hasn’t). I don’t really have any problems with workers being consulted over health-and-safety-related changes to their place of work—and clearly in some cases BA can’t do anything, such as on flights to/from the US—but it will start to get a bit odd if the only place people are mandated to wear a face mask is on a plane, but not in a busy airport or anywhere else in the UK.

  • BJ says:

    1in13 in NI and 1in18 in Scotland last week, how many in England this week – much more than the 1in25 last week, let’s see?? It’ll all boil down to beds occupied, about 2000 in Scotland at the moment I think. I certainly would not bet against mandatory masks across the UK again within 2-3 weeks but who knows. Signs are current wave in Scotland may be peaking so if we can still progress to ditching masks in another two weeks with 2000 beds occupied then scaled up proportionately across the UK it might still be possible to avoid return of masks. Compliance would be diificult in any case, many already not wearing masks where they still should in Scotland.

  • Guy Incognito says:

    I suggest everyone just says they are exempt.

    I’ve never worn a mask when travelling (even to / from the US last year) – I don’t even own one – and not had any issues.

    • Paul says:

      That would be funny if everyone on the flight had a lanyard

    • Joe says:

      I’ll be getting an exemption by summer if they are still here. I do suffer from facial eczema a bit and masks cause me to be uncomfortable and sweaty. Last year I put up with it. This summer I won’t.

    • CatchFlightsNotFeelings says:

      I have an exemption lanyard but never been able to go mask free due to lack of doctors note which they dont provide. Are BA now acknowledging the lanyard and do i just wear it at check in or do i have to notify them in advance?

      • Joe says:

        Just ask the doctor for a note. Private will certainly do it.

        • Evelyn says:

          Is that a fact?? So can I / we see a private GP and they’ll write an exemption note? If so, that would be worth the ££.

      • Nick says:

        I’ve used BA a couple of times this year (Scotland-England) and found them to be absolutely fine with exemptions. I just mentioned to the gate team and there was no issue at all.

        EasyJet are a different story – watched them berate a wheelchair bound passenger and attempt to eject her from the flight because she hadn’t notified of them exemption in advance. Had them take away my seat because I’d be too close to cabin crew on take off & landing (despite there being an actual wall between my seat & cabin crew seats)

        I like BA, so won’t be bashing them, but this is a monumental breakdown in comms that will lead to greater stress for their onboard staff & passengers

    • Evelyn says:

      What evidence do the airlines require to honour exemptions. My GP practice refuses to do letters for exemptions as the government guidance is that proof of exemption is not required and that they’ve got bigger fish to fry. But my experience on Virgin is that they need hardcore evidence. So pretty much stuck between a rock & a hard place.

  • Fraser says:

    The big problem is they need to enforce masks on routes which require them. Like with PLF, the news focuses on travel TO the UK while the restrictions abroad are the deciding factor and vary by country

    Surely it’s easier to simply keep the requirement than have to explain the rules on a flight by flight basis

    Changes in English (not UK) domestic policy would only impact the few English domestic flights BA actually operate.

  • Jack Hodgson says:

    u turn after u turn not sure why and does not help the social media team saying they did not change it when it is still mandatory

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