Heathrow Airport has announced that face coverings are no longer mandated in their terminals, rail stations or office buildings.
Heathrow’s home carriers British Airways and Virgin Atlantic welcomed the move, signalling that they are 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 has said it will still 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. In the event of a significant rise in COVID cases or a future variant of concern materialise, Heathrow has said it will not hesitate to reinstate the mandatory use of face coverings throughout the airport.
Face coverings will remain available at the airport to support those who wish to continue wearing them and for those who feel vulnerable, staff are being encouraged to be respectful and put on a face covering if requested.
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 said: “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 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.”