Qantas will no longer enforce the use of face masks to a trio of international destinations from today, with the airline instead opting to follow the guidelines of the intended port.
The change means passengers and crew on non-stop flights to Rome, the United States, and the United Kingdom – departing from New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia – can now breathe freely for duration, if they choose to.
Multiple countries, including the United States and United Kingdom, have abandoned the need to wear masks on planes and in airports altogether, with many airlines also following suit.
As reported by Sydney Morning Herald, a leaked Qantas memo stated: “The removal of mask mandates for airports and some international flights reinforces that the lifting of mask mandates onboard aircraft in all settings is the appropriate next step, with global studies showing the risk of transmission inside the cabin is very low.”
A Qantas spokesperson flagged change was coming on June 15, saying “For some outbound international flights where masks are not required at the destination, such as flights to the USA, UK and Europe, this means masks will no longer be mandatory on board.”
The move comes less than a week after the Australia Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) – an advisory group of the nation's top health officials – recommended the requirement to wear masks in Australia airports be scrapped.
Until now, Qantas has strictly adhered to Australian Government legislation, introduced in the early days of the pandemic, which stated masks be worn on flights to and from Australia.
Following last week’s recommendation, a joint release from Health and Transport ministers Mark Butler and Catherine King also said: “The government is advised the AHPPC will continue to actively consider mask wearing on flights and will issue further advice on this in the future.”
Masks will continue to be provided to passengers and crew who choose to wear them.
Adding to confusion though, mask use remains mandatory on all Australian domestic flights, as well as international flights to and which pass through countries that maintain mask mandates.
Speaking with 2GB's Ben Fordham last week, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce acknowledged it's not an ideal situation, with rules varying depending on the route. Sydney to London via Perth, for example, would see masks required on some legs of the journey, yet not others.
“If you do Sydney to Perth, you have to wear a mask,” Mr Joyce explained. “But when you do Perth to London, when you leave the country, you don't have to wear a mask. And on the way back in, London to Perth you do because you're coming into Australia.”
After highlighting onboard air filters, Joyce added: “We think there's a good case to remove masks from aircraft to stop this confusion. And we're having good dialogue with the federal government. We hope that some progress is made on that soon, because it is very confusing for customers.”
Global studies have shown the risk of transmission on aircraft cabins to be very low, with air refreshed every few minutes, forward facing seats reducing potential exposure, and high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters capturing 99% of airborne particles.