Heathrow removes face covering mandate
The Heathrow Observer
March 15, 2022.
People travelling through Heathrow will no longer be required to wear a face covering after the airport announced that it is moving away from the mandate from Wednesday 16 March.
In recognition that the pandemic is not over however, the airport will continue to strongly encourage those at the airport to continue wearing a face covering – particularly when coming into close contact with others – although this will no longer be a firm requirement. The change mirrors steps taken by other transport organisations in the UK, and applies across all terminals, bus and railway stations and office spaces. Heathrow also will encourage passengers to check onboard face covering requirements with their airlines before travelling.
Heathrow’s home carriers British Airways and Virgin Atlantic welcomed the move, signalling that they were preparing to follow suit by dropping the face covering requirement onboard their aircraft as soon as regulatory requirements for their destinations allow.
The removal of the mandatory requirement reflects society’s move towards learning to live with COVID longer term. It is now possible because of the continued strong protection provided by vaccination programmes around the world.
Heathrow will maintain a wide-array of COVID-secure measures – including enhanced ventilation in all terminal buildings – which will help keep people safe on their journeys through the airport. Should a significant rise in COVID cases or a future variant of concern materialise, the airport will not hesitate to reinstate the mandatory use of face coverings at the airport.
Face coverings will remain available at the airport to support those who wish to continue wearing them. The airport accepts that some passengers may feel vulnerable, and is encouraging its workers to be respectful and put on a face covering when near a passenger who requests it.
Commenting on the change, Heathrow Chief Operating Officer Emma Gilthorpe said: “We have worked hard to keep our passengers and colleagues safe during the pandemic. We acted quickly to institute face coverings as one of our first lines of defence, and we’re pleased that we’re now able to move away from a mandatory requirement as society learns to live with COVID longer term.
"While we still recommend wearing them, we can be confident the investments we’ve made in COVID-secure measures – some of which aren’t always visible – combined with the fantastic protection provided by the vaccine will continue to keep people safe while travelling.
"We’re gearing up for a busy summer travel season, and this change means we can look forward to welcoming our passengers back with a smile as we get them safely away on their journeys.”
Corneel Koster, Chief Customer & Operating Officer, Virgin Atlantic added: “Throughout the pandemic we’ve reviewed our Covid-19 measures, with the health and safety of our customers and people remaining Virgin Atlantic’s number one priority.
“As we learn to live with Covid-19 and with the legal requirement to wear a face mask now removed in England, we believe our customers should have the personal choice whether to wear a mask onboard, on routes where international regulations around mask-wearing do not apply. This policy will be introduced gradually, beginning with our Caribbean services from Heathrow and Manchester airports and we encourage everyone to be respectful of fellow passengers’ mask preferences.
“Across our network, we continue to adhere to all regulatory requirements both in the UK and in destination countries, recognising that mask requirements differ by market. Masks will still be required on many of our routes, including flights operating to or from the United States until 18 April at the earliest.”
Jason Mahoney, British Airways' Chief Operating Officer said: "We welcome this as a really positive step forward. As an international airline we fly to a large number of countries around the world, all of which have their own local restrictions and legal requirements. We’re working through these and from Wednesday March 16, customers will only be required to wear a face covering on board our flights if the destination they’re travelling to requires it. For destinations where the wearing of a face covering is not mandated, our customers are able to make a personal choice, and we kindly request everyone respects each other’s preferences.”