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The EU Masks/No-Masks Rule for Airplanes – My Experience With Long-Haul and Short-Haul Flights

Written by Charlie

The EU recommendation on masks for airplanes went into effect last week. Here is my experience of how it actually worked traveling between 4 different countries.

Last week, I flew from Europe to the US and back again. This was just a couple of days after the EU recommendation to drop the mask rules for airplanes went into effect. I already knew going into it that some countries, like Greece, Germany, Italy, and others, had decided to hold on to their mask rules so I was eager to see how this new rule/no-rule worked in practice.

The EU Rules for Masks on Airplanes – How it Actually Works

As a brief reminder, the EU makes recommendations but each individual member state can still decide to do whatever they want to do for their own countries. With the lifting of masks from May 16, many countries either had already dropped in-flight masks requirements or did on that day.

One of the big questions when the US dropped their mask mandate on aircraft was – what about flying to or from countries who had mask mandates in effect? I am sure you heard about the situation with many Jewish people flying Lufthansa from JFK to Frankfurt when Lufthansa prevented all of them from connecting because a couple/few had decided to not wear their masks when they were told by agents they had to (because of German laws). So, what actually happens?

Here are my experiences.

Flying From Greece to Switzerland

  • Greece: Masks are required onboard and in airports (until June 1)
  • Switzerland: Masks are not required onboard or in airports
  • Flying Aegean Airlines

I was flying Aegean Airlines, the flag carrier of Greece, so was totally expecting that masks would be required, both in the airport and onboard. Sure, enough, both things were true.

Onboard the flight, flight attendants did tell various passengers to pull up their masks to cover their nose as well as their mouths during the flight.

However, once we landed in Switzerland, I disembarked to see an airport employee waiting for the flight – and she was unmasked. So, off went my mask as well as most of the passengers onboard our aircraft. This was the first time in over 2 years that I have been in an airport without a mask! It felt really, really weird! Not only that, it is the first time in 2 years that I have been in a public building (in Europe) where I did not have to wear a mask (since most of my experiences with it were in Greece and they have had tight restrictions for a long time).

It was nice to see faces again, to be honest. Plus, it made hurrying through the airport a little bit easier without having to breath through the mask. When I passed through passport control, I also noticed that none of the police staffing those areas (or in the rest of the airport) were wearing masks. Those that wore masks inside the airport here were doing so completely on their own.

Flying From Switzerland to the United States

  • Switzerland: Masks are not required onboard or in airports
  • USA: Masks are not required onboard or in airports
  • Flying United Airlines

I made my way to my gate and, for the first time since the tests became mandatory for flying to the US, I found that there was no line to check documents. Instead, people were advised to go right to the counter at the gate (instead of how it was done in Belgium and Germany where there was one desk for all US-bound flights). The agent just quickly looked at my test and said that they did not even need the CDC attestation form that is supposed to be downloaded and filled out.

Onboard the flight, I would say that less than 10% of passengers were wearing masks and only one flight attendant was (strangely, he was wearing it only over his mouth?). I talked to a flight attendant during the flight about it and she said that they were so very excited to not have to wear them anymore and that they had been waiting for this for a long time.

This was my first long-haul flight (or, first flight at all!) in over 2 years where I was not required to wear a mask – and it felt great! The KN95 masks really dig into my ears, as do the regular medical masks (but I normally fly through Germany and they had required KN95 or double masked). Yes, I know I can put them around my headphones but I normally wear my Bose QuietComfort earbuds onboard and not headphones so that doesn’t work. In the past, I would actually put my KN95 inside my Under Armour mask and only strap on the UA mask (leaving the KN95 inside covering mouth and nose and being held on by the UA mask). While it was more comfortable, that was double masking which really is not something I like either! 🙂

Flying From the United States to Germany

  • United States: Masks are not required onboard or in airports
  • Germany: Masks are required onboard but only “recommended” in airports
  • Flying United Airlines

This was the flight I was really wanting to see how things worked. Since we were leaving the US, you are not required to wear a mask on an airplane. And United Airlines does not require it either. However, we were flying to Germany which does require masks on aircraft.

Lufthansa requires the use of masks onboard to and from Germany. However, there was no announcement made on our United Airlines flight regarding masks though everyone of the flight attendants were wearing masks. So, my guess is that they are required but United does not enforce any rule on the passengers, specifically because the use of masks in Germany airports is no longer mandatory after April 2.

So, flying to Munich was also a maskless flight (again, no announcement was made that it was mandatory and nothing was said about mask use during the flight). My guess from walking around the plane was that it was mostly tourists that were not wearing masks and those that I could understand may have been Germany (by their language, tags on bags, etc) were wearing masks – or, in a couple of cases, put them on before landing.

In the airport, there were signs that it was recommended to wear a mask but nothing about mandatory. This was in contrast to many outdated signs throughout the US airports I was in that said that masks were required.

Flying From Germany to Greece

  • Germany: Masks are not required in airports but are onboard aircraft
  • Greece: Masks are required onboard and in airports
  • Flying Aegean Airlines

There were both announcements made prior to boarding and the flight board kept showing that it was required to wear masks onboard. A couple of people were stopped during the boarding process to put on their masks.

On the plane, flight attendants could be seen with their masks off in the galley while they were talking with each other but mask use in the main cabins of the plane, the masks were on. They even spoke to some who had their masks down.

Landing in Greece, while we walked to the baggage carousel, I spotted a police officer quickly move from his post and make a beeline to a passenger to tell him to put his mask on, so it was still very much being enforce. However, as of June 1 until September 15, masks will no longer be required onboard aircraft or in airports in Greece.

Bottom Line

It was strange to fly again in a manner which was almost completely pre-Covid. The time at the counter in Switzerland to check the test was minimal and is actually something I am familiar with to check and make sure that the questions have been asked that are typically asked before flying to the US. And, if my trip and started and ended in Switzerland instead of Greece, the entire journey and airport transfers would have been mask free.

While masks are certainly still worn by some, largely they are starting to be no longer worn by passengers. The flight attendants that I spoke with said it had been a hard two years and they were glad to put the masks down and not have to wear them anymore. One attendant even said that she tries to only work flights where she will not have to wear a mask.

I think pretty much all of Europe will be mask free for the summer. What will happen in September? I guess that remains to be seen. But, at least you have a first-person account now of how the EU rules on masks on aircraft actually played out!

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About the author

Charlie

Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.