COVID-19 pandemic strategies vary in different parts of the world. Increasingly, the requirement to wear masks on board is being removed. But this is far from universal just yet.

The crew will know what policies apply to your specific flight. It is critical that you follow their instructions. Refusing to follow the crew’s instructions could lead to penalties in many countries.

Of course, even if masks are not required on your flight, you always have the option to wear one. In many parts of the world, mask-wearing has long-been an accepted courtesy.

Eventually, we should all be able to fly without masks being mandated

Aircraft are designed with features to reduce the potential transmission of viruses on board. Cabin air is refreshed every 2-3 minutes—much more frequently than most other indoor environments. It is also filtered and flows from ceiling to floor, all of which helps to maintain a healthy on-board environment. 

That's why IATA believes that if a country has removed mandatory mask rules in indoor environments and/or other modes of public transport, then mask-wearing should not be mandatory for air transport.

FAQ on mask-wearing in flight

While mandatory mask-wearing is disappearing in many countries, there are still some parts of the world where mask mandates remain in place. Therefore some airlines continue to comply with local rules and regulations and mandate mask-wearing on board. We ask all passengers to respect the rules and comply with requests from the cabin crew. We want to see air travel health rules reflect the rules on the ground, so as governments withdraw mask rules from other indoor public spaces, particularly public transport, we expect the rules to be harmonized for air passengers.

A flight that crosses borders may also cross between a state that does not require masks to one that does. In that situation, the airline may feel it inappropriate to ask people to suddenly put masks on. It is therefore simpler to ask people to wear their mask for the whole journey.

There is no central body governing air transport to make this decision. Airlines will make their own decisions on mask rules in consultation with their employees and in accordance with local laws and health guidance. We hope that air travel can return to normal for all passengers, including the removal of vaccine passports, passenger locator forms, and masks. But this will happen at different times in different parts of the world according to COVID levels and individual government policies.

While masks are an additional layer of protection, the natural layout and effective air flow within the cabin already reduce the risk of COVID transmission compared to other indoor situations. It is not logical to expect most people to obey with mask rules on board when they are no longer expected to in other situations. Air travel should not become an exceptional case: health rules on-board should reflect the general state of rules in society at large. If the health authorities deem it no longer necessary to wear masks indoors or on public transport, then air travel should be treated the same.

The vast majority of passengers have been compliant with mask rules and we thank customers for their understanding of the rules and respect for cabin crew instructions. There have been some instances of unruly behavior from passengers refusing to comply with the rules. Airlines have a zero-tolerance approach to non-compliance with cabin rules. Anyone not complying with crew instructions and regulations risks being taken off their flight and possible prosecution and fines.

If an airline has decided to no longer mandate mask-wearing, then you cannot insist that people near you wear a mask if they don’t want to. If you see other people in another row wearing masks, it may be possible to ask to swap seats so you are sitting closer to other mask-wearers, but this would of course only be with the agreement of the person you are asking to swap with, and the approval of the cabin crew. Where mask- wearing is voluntary, some passengers and crew will continue to wear masks as a matter of personal choice. All passengers should respect the preferences of their fellow passengers and crew.