More and more signs are pointing to the return of smiles on airplanes around the world (but spoiler alert: probably not in Canada 😂). Last week, the European Union (EU) recommended eliminating the mask requirement on planes, a requirement that has already been lifted for weeks in several European countries, by the way (and the USA, among others). But beware, that doesn’t mean it’s over everywhere in Europe.
Are we still doing the “trust the science” thing? If so, let’s repeat this first, since there are many people who don’t know the facts.
The science is clear: air quality is better on airplanes than in any indoor space on the ground (yes, even places where people are less packed close together of course).
So there is absolutely no rational logic in continuing to impose the mask on planes IF the mask is not imposed in any interior space. And the indoor mask requirement is lifted almost everywhere (even in Québec, so!).
It’s okay to want to keep your mask on of course, but it’s not okay to say that it’s necessary on an airplane if it’s not necessary elsewhere on the ground. That’s just false. You can however defend keeping it everywhere, just not keeping it only on planes.
I actually shared my experience flying unmasked for the 1st time after 67 masked flights a few weeks ago, along with some more personal thoughts on the subject, if you’re interested.
But here are the details of the EU recommendation… and the impact for you as a traveler who is surely about to (finally) jump onto the revenge travel trend soon (if not, what are you waiting for?).
Details of the European recommendation
Here is the summary:
- The EU is lifting its recommendation to require masks on airplanes
- They said it’s in part because masks are no longer mandatory in other indoor places
- Where the air quality is always worse than on planes
- The 2 EU agencies in charge of this topic announced it Wednesday
- The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- The European Union Aviation Safety Agency
- The new recommendation takes effect May 16 (tomorrow)
- They said it was “a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel”
- It is not binding, like everything else the EU does
- Each country can decide its own rules, like with everything else
- Most member countries follow the recommendations though
- Several countries had already removed the requirement, others should follow
I will give a short and very basic explanation of the EU because it came up so often as a point of confusion during the pandemic (and you can read our article explaining the EU/Europe/Eurozone/Schengen area).
It doesn’t help that major media outlets use headlines like “no more masks on airplanes in Europe” which is not true. But then again, we’ve seen a lot of confusion caused by them during the pandemic in terms of travel rules (after months, there are still some who say that a test “within 24 hours” is required to enter the US by plane or that unvaccinated Canadians are not allowed to enter Canada by plane 🤦).
In short, every time the EU made a recommendation, we’ve repeated it: it doesn’t mean anything in and of itself.
The European Union is a political and economic union of European countries, but each member country can still make its own rules. Each country decides whether to follow the EU recommendations on masks or tests or whatever (which most member countries do immediately or end up doing eventually) or not to follow them at all.
So nothing is changing with the most basic and important (and also the simplest) rule of pandemic travel: every country is different. You have to look at the rules of each country! A simple principle.
The rules to enter a country by air are obviously simple to find, they are literally all in the same place for all countries as we have been telling you for over a year.
The rules for masks on planes though… that’s a little more complex. There is no centralized database for that (just like the rules to enter countries by land for example). So keep a few masks in your bag just in case.
But several European countries will follow the recommendation and we can expect mask requirements to be lifted in the other countries fairly soon.
However, mask rules are different from more restrictive requirements: airlines could decide to require masks even if the country does not require them, unlike vaccination or testing requirements (NO airline in the world requires vaccination or testing, as we explained in a clear infographic; they just enforce the country’s rules, it’s that easy to understand).
But, good news: airlines are very eager to eliminate the mask requirement too (even in Canada). So in general, they eliminate it when the country eliminates it.
Partial list of countries that have eliminated the mask requirement
This is relevant to know, no matter if you want to:
- Fly without a mask
- Avoid planes filled with people flying without masks
Flying with or without a mask both are perfectly respectable preferences. Freedom of choice is a pretty cool concept.
We will try to make a more precise list of the mask rules on planes in every country soon for those who want to know (subscribe to our free newsletter to receive everything).
Especially since the list should grow quite quickly with this recent news out of Europe.
In the meantime, here is an incomplete list of countries without mask requirements:
- United States
- United Kingdom
Mask requirement for Canadian flights
The air must be different in Europe, because even Trudeau doesn’t wear a mask there, while he always wears one here, even outside.
But more seriously, many have asked us when the mask requirement on planes will be lifted in Canada as well.
This is of course honestly impossible to predict, because, like all travel rules related to COVID-19, it was never based on science. So it’s absolutely unpredictable.
When the political calculations will indicate that it’s more popular to remove the requirement than to keep it, the requirement will be removed. Simple as that… but no one can know when that will be.
As I’m sure you know, Canada has no other indoor mask requirement at all now that Québec has reversed its extremist position (yes it was objectively extremist by definition, since 58 of the 59 states and provinces around had removed the requirement weeks or even months ago in fact).
Well, there’s actually mask requirements left on mass transit in Canada (but not in the US or in the majority of Europe), but at least that’s more defendable, since busses and trains do not have good air quality like planes do.
(Let me remind you that commercial airplanes have very powerful HEPA filters that capture 99.97% of particles, plus systems designed to ventilate from the top down to reduce transmission, and that the air is completely renewed 20 to 30 times per hour. This is infinitely better than in any indoor space on the ground. Read the last section for details!)
So in short, Canada is likely to be among the last ones to lift the mask requirement on planes, based on its history of travel rules. But if you want the option to travel without a mask, it’s possible. I’ll talk about that in a few seconds.
Mask requirement between 2 countries with different rules
First, let’s explain what happens when there is a flight between 2 countries, when one country has an in-flight mask requirement and the other does not.
The unpopular answer is: it’s not clear.
In theory, it’s simple: the only flights where masks are not required are those between 2 destinations where the requirement is lifted. That’s what they all say officially.
In practice, it’s a different story: Flytrippers’ other co-founder was able to take a flight mask-free from Panama (even though their in-flight mask requirement was in effect there) because the crew said that as soon as the door was closed, they applied the rules of the country they were going to (which makes sense to me, but I haven’t research the legal aspect).
We’ve also received several testimonials from readers telling us that US carriers don’t always enforce the requirement on flights to or from Canada… even though officially they all say it should apply, because of Canada’s rules.
But there is 1 international carrier that has confirmed to Flytrippers that they do not require masks on flights out of Canada. I’m saving that scoop for an article this week 🙂
One thing is for sure: Canadian airlines are regulated by the Canadian government, so you can rest assured that they will respect everything to a tee and impose the mask at all times.
How Canadians can travel without a mask
There is a way to be sure that you can travel 100% mask-free for Europe this spring and summer (that’s what I’m going to do personally) and for the United States (the most popular destination for Canadians statistically).
In my personal case, masks give my girlfriend rosacea.
So she wanted to make sure she didn’t have to wear one on our transatlantic flight to Europe this summer.
(I’m pretty sick of them myself of course, as I’m sure you’ve deduced from my 6 trips to the US since November to live a normal life. Personally, I also absolutely hate how the mask has become a symbol of irrational fear and how it has become a virtue-signaling device even. But of course, that’s not going to stop me from traveling, I’m actually taking a transatlantic flight with a mask on Wednesday unfortunately!)
So, I had already booked our Boston-London flights a while back to be sure to have a no-mask option if Canada keeps it until 2023, as is quite possible.
I did that since the UK was one of the first countries to remove masks on planes and I was sure that the US would not be outfreedomed (especially not by the country they liberated themselves from) for long.
I booked with my Aeroplan points, so it’s cancelable for free if Canada ever removes its requirement and I want to leave from Canada directly. The free cancelation is really one of the best advantages of Aeroplan points (besides the fact that it gives free flights, of course). That Aeroplan redemption is not the best one at first glance, but I’ll explain why it’s good in my next travel rewards post.
So in short, leaving from the US and going to one of the many countries without masks on planes allows for mask-free travel.
For a trip to the United States, you can also very easily avoid having to put on a mask! You just have to cross the land border and fly out of a US airport like Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Plattsburgh, Burlington, or Bellingham.
Plus, it will also save you from having to take a test to enter the USA (even if they cost as little as $25 anywhere in Canada, it seems that many people want to avoid that more than I do, with my 28 tests to date).
Plus, US airlines charge less tax per ticket. And unlike Canadian airlines, let’s face it: they give a cash refund when they cancel flights (instead of illegally trying to pull a fast one on you as our dear Canadian airlines did, never forget). Plus, many US airlines have even eliminated ticket change fees permanently (instead of just temporarily offering one free change as Canadian airlines are offering).
Why the mask requirement on planes makes no sense when there is no mask requirement at all
Look, we completely understand that when you don’t know much about this, it may seem logical to keep requiring masks on planes, since it’s a metal tube and everyone is packed closely together.
But it’s not logical, no.
It’s an irrational fear, there’s really no other interpretation. We live in an era where feelings are more important than facts, and many people want a mask requirement on planes to make themselves feel better (and seek validation of these irrational fears to feel better as well), but here at Flytrippers, we don’t go down that path.
We believe in the importance of facts too much for that. It’s the same as when people are afraid their plane will crash, basically. It’s statistically ≈16 times more likely for someone to die in a car crash, but no one is afraid of that… so we’re certainly not going to tell you that it’s rational to be afraid of flying (unless you’re also afraid of cars).
It’s an uncontrollable feeling for some, but we want to help you see the facts: if the mask is not required anywhere else, it makes no sense to require it on a plane.
Movie theaters, venues, restaurants, arenas, classrooms, offices… These are all places where you can sometimes be just as cramped as on a plane, but no masks are required there, and the air quality in these places is much worse than on a plane.
Of course, if your argument is that the mask requirement should not be removed from indoor spaces either, then at least it’s rational to keep it on planes as well.
But even then, every day, about 100% of the population in places where masks have been lifted will use indoor spaces that are not planes, while way under 1% will travel by air. So you should put your mask-keeping efforts where it has the most impact. And it’s certainly not on planes.
But understanding the relative risks and contextualizing them is something that many people clearly have difficulty doing, as we’ve seen very clearly since the pandemic started (except for the first month, 99% of COVID-19 cases in Canada came from community transmission, but it was far more popular to irrationally continue to blame travelers, regardless of what the data published by Health Canada actually said).
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One more step towards a return to normalcy for travelers: the European Union recommends following the science and no longer requiring masks on planes. And contrary to what many people think, this makes a lot of sense because masks are no longer required anywhere else on the ground, and the air quality on planes is quite superior.
What would you like to know about masks on planes? Tell us in the comments below.
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Featured image: Mask-free passengers, historically called “normal” passengers (photo credit: Aer Lingus)
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