Face masks have become the most visible sign of the 'new normal', especially for air travellers.
The wearing of masks in everyday life – on public transport, at shopping centres and even when out in public – has largely been driven by state-based regulations, which in turn have flexed based on COVID outbreaks.
And while Qantas and Virgin Australia began issuing masks to all passengers in mid-2020, wearing those masks was at first voluntary, although strongly encouraged, before they became compulsory when flying within or between some states, mainly NSW and Victoria.
On January 8 this year, as concerns mounted over new variants of COVID-19 which proved far more infectious than their parent, mask-wearing became mandatory on all domestic flights.
" Mask wearing should be mandatory on domestic flights for all persons in Australia as an additional preventative measure to prevent geographical spread of COVID-19," the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) declared.
"Mask wearing should be mandatory in indoor areas in domestic airports depending on jurisdictional assessment."
As a result, masks must now be worn at all stages of the journey – at airports, in airport lounges and during the flight – including trips between Australia and New Zealand once the travel bubble opens on April 19.
(That said, any recent visitor to airport lounges can attest that many lounge guests are not wearing masks unless directly approached by lounge staff.)
So how long will face masks remain compulsory for flyers?
As mask wearing is now mandated by the Federal Government, airlines and airports are required to follow the government's lead.
The AHPPC's statement on wearing masks on domestic flights remains in force, and a spokesperson for the Department of Health told Executive Traveller "all AHPPC statements are reviewed periodically and are updated when required."
Even if the AHPPC decides to relax its national mask-wearing requirements, there's still scope for state-by-state variations – at specific airports and on certain intra-state or inter-state routes – depending on the regulations of each state.
There's also room for airlines to continue making face masks compulsory on flights out of a desire to give passengers confidence and 'an abundance of caution' in protecting airline employees by providing them with a safe workplace.
In short: even if face masks are no longer part of your everyday life on the ground, expect them to be a fixture of the flying experience for some time to come.