We flew four major European airlines and their mask policies confused the hell out of us
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
As COVID-19 restrictions ease and more and more airlines announce the dropping of their face mask mandates, TPG U.K. took to the skies to see how things have changed.
Travel demand is swiftly returning to almost pre-pandemic levels, and with it, there have been numerous announcements in recent weeks of airlines dropping their face mask rules.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Some, like British Airways, saw a chaotic and confusing rollout, others such as KLM were controversial and then there are the likes of Jet2 and Easyjet who, aside from their initial announcements have garnered little fanfare around their rule changes.
In a bid to understand what travellers can now expect, we boarded multiple flights to see what the current rules on masks are, and how – if at all – they were still being enforced.
TPG hopped aboard three apparently maskless flights (British Airways and easyJet), one flight departing and arriving at maskless destinations (Scandanavian Airlines), and an airline no longer enforcing masks aboard their flights despite rules (KLM). Here’s what happened…
Route: London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Dublin (DUB)
Airport experience: Flying the day after Heathrow scrapped its mask rules along with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, travellers in the terminal were a mishmash of masked and barefaced. Heathrow’s large announcement boards incorrectly stated masks were still mandatory despite announcing they weren’t several days prior. Many airport staff wore masks but said this was a personal choice rather than regulation and people were free to go maskless if they wished.
Boarding: At the gate there was nothing to indicate masks would be mandatory on the flight. It wasn’t until we stepped foot on the plane itself that flight staff told us we’d be required to wear a face-covering and politely handed us one. They seemed confused as to the actual rules but hashed out an explanation that it was due to Ireland’s face mask requirements. I think they actually meant Dublin Airport rules for masks in terminals.
Onboard: Despite being told to wear masks, many passengers opted not to wear them and I not see the rules enforced by BA staff who were all wearing coverings. During our descent the captain told us all to put on our facemasks for disembarkation, the suggestion being that we hadn’t actually had to wear masks for the duration of the flight itself.
Arrival: Many passengers kept their facemasks on after departing the plane, but a large amount tore them off within seconds. Dublin Airport was a similar mix to that seen at Heathrow — despite signs and tannoy announcements declaring masks mandatory. I did not see staff enforce the rules and even spotted some eschewing masks themselves.
Overall: Masks had only just been dropped at Heathrow, and by British Airways on certain flights so I expected some passengers to be unaware of the rules, or to simply prefer to keep their masks on. What I didn’t expect was that the communication of mask regulations could be so bad from both Heathrow Airport and BA. From incorrect signage in the airport to contradictory guidance from the pilot and flight staff it was very confusing.
Jordan Waller, managing editor
Route: London Gatwick Airport (LGW) to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS)
Airport experience: Virtually all passengers and airline and airport staff chose not to wear masks at check-in, security and while airside in the terminal building.
Boarding: As our boarding passes were scanned when we entered the boarding gate area we were advised we would not need to wear a mask at the gate but would require one when we stepped on the aircraft. Most passengers did not do this until they were in the aerobridge.
Onboard: All crew were masked up and handing out disposable masks to any passenger that did not have them. We were advised during announcements over the tannoy that masks were required during the flight unless actively eating and drinking.
Arrival: All passengers and staff at Amsterdam Airport were wearing masks.
Overall: It didn’t make much sense to be allowed to sit close together with fellow passengers without face coverings at the boarding gate and within the confined space of the aerobridge, only to have to put them on to sit on the plane with the same people, but BA were, in fairness, following the Netherlands rules.
Ben Smithson, senior writer
Route: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) to London Luton Airport (LTN)
Airport experience: All passengers and staff at Amsterdam were wearing masks.
Boarding: Some passengers removed their masks as they waited at the gate but we were advised when boarding commenced that we would have to wear them on the plane.
Onboard: Crew were fairly relaxed about mask usage on the flight. They did all wear face coverings but didn’t have any to hand out on boarding, and didn’t seem to mind if passengers removed them when they were not eating and drinking. They did check everyone’s just before landing reminding a few passengers to put their masks back on.
Arrival: Virtually all passengers and ground staff were masked free and many passengers on my flight removed theirs the second they stepped off the flight.
Overall: It was odd that, while the Netherlands do have mask rules, when passengers removed theirs while waiting at the boarding gate staff did not enforce the rules. The London-based crew on this easyJet flight seemed quite relaxed about mask-wearing on this flight. It didn’t make sense that the only time they were strict about wearing masks was when we were coming into the land in the U.K., where masks were not required and many passengers took theirs off the second they entered the terminal.
Ben Smithson, senior writer
Route: Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) to London City Airport (LCY)
Airport experience: This was a weird one – you didn’t have to wear a mask when you arrived at the terminal, but it was compulsory as soon as you scanned your boarding pass to go through to passport control. One person was in charge of asking every single passenger to put a mask on. Once we were through passport control, I saw a lot of people without masks, but the rules were not being enforced.
Boarding: Almost everyone at the gate was wearing masks. The crew at the check-in didn’t wear them but were protected by a shielding glass.
Onboard: I didn’t see a single mask free passenger when I boarded. When I spoke to the crew, they said it was mandatory but that they didn’t specifically inform passenger of this, or enforce it.
Arrival: Many passengers removed their masks on arrival, and virtually all ground staff were mask free.
Overall: It was a very confusing experience – no masks in the departure hall, masks through the passport control, no masks afterwards and a mandatory mask requirement on the flight that I suspect very few people knew about.
Maren Gimnes, social media manager
Route: London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Copenhagen Airport (CPH)
Airport experience: Virtually all passengers and staff chose not to wear masks at check-in, security and while airside in the terminal building.
Boarding: Most passengers and staff were mask free at the gate but we were advised that we were required to wear a mask during the flight despite both Heathrow and Denmark having recently dropped all mask requirements as this was a policy of Scandinavian Airlines. Even odder was that crew were checking each passenger as they boarded and anyone wearing a reusable cloth face covering was forced to remove this and wear a new disposable mask provided by the crew — much to the frustration of passengers. I also observed a family with a child around 10 years old told that the child would need to wear a mask for the duration of the flight.
Onboard: We were advised during announcements over the tannoy that masks were required during the flight unless actively eating and drinking.
Arrival: Virtually all passengers and staff were mask free with many passengers on my flight ripping off their masks the second they walked off the aircraft.
Overall: Given that both the U.K. and Denmark have dropped social distancing restrictions for travel it didn’t make much sense that SAS had retained their mask rules for flights between these two countries.
Ben Smithson, Senior Writer
Though some airlines had now publicly promoted that they no longer require passengers to wear face coverings on their flights, the reality is that they are very restricted by the requirements of the countries in which they are operating to and from. None of the flights we took were truly maskless and the SAS flight was the most frustrating given the airline was flying between two countries with some of the most relaxed mask rules in Europe.
While we would expect mask mandates to continue to reduce as the busy summer travel season starts it’s a good idea to pack a face covering with you and expect, right now you will probably have to wear it on your flight, even if you did not need to as you mixed with the same passengers at the gate.
Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy
Welcome to The Points Guy!