As the pandemic slips into the rearview mirror, several airlines in the United Kingdom and most recently in the United States have started lifting their face mask mandates onboard flights. Now, TUI Fly is the first Belgian airline to follow suit.
The decision to only recommend face masks rather than making them compulsory was made several days ago and is already in place on TUI flights, the company's spokesperson Piet Demeyere said, adding that TUI "respects the regulations in the country of destination." This means that face masks are still compulsory on all flights to Spain and France, he told The Brussels Times in a statement.
Demeyere explained that for all other destinations, it is up to passengers to decide whether to wear masks or not: "It is no longer a legal requirement when travelling to or from Belgium... But we still strongly recommend it," a statement on the airline's website said.
Official changes vs recommendations
The latest Royal Decree defining the Covid-19 measures in Belgium states that face masks are still compulsory on public transport. But this is limited to trains, trams, metros and buses, and does not include aircraft.
Face masks "continue to be recommended, particularly in indoor areas and all situations where the rules of social distancing cannot be followed," including in the "transport of people organised by private companies (e.g. airlines and bus companies)."
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Belgium's two other airline companies – Brussels Airlines and Air Belgium – currently still have the face mask obligation is still in place.
Infectious disease specialist Yves Van Laethem told Sud Presse that it is still early days for people to do without face masks on planes, adding that "given that the viral circulation is still high, it is a good idea to keep your mask on."
However, Van Laethem the difficulty of enforcing such measures, especially in light of the mask mandate being lifted in other places where people are in close proximity in enclosed spaces for a longer period of time, such as in cinemas and night clubs.