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Lufthansa Group (which includes Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian, and Brussels Airlines) has today announced that while passengers are currently expected to wear masks that cover their mouth and nose during boarding, during the flight, and during disembarkation, as of next month most face covering will no longer be in compliance with the Group’s policies.
From 1 February 2021, most passengers traveling on a Lufthansa Group airline will be required to wear a “medical protective mask” on their flights to and from Germany (at this point, this rule does not appear to cover travel to or from any other country). Acceptable masks include surgical masks, FFP2 masks, or masks conforming to the N95/N95 standard.
All other masks (e.g. the cloth masks that most retailers now sell) will not be considered an acceptable face covering for the purpose of travel to/from Germany on a Lufthansa Group airline.
Lufthansa Group says that this measure is being introduced to bring its airlines into line with the new rules the German government set out on 19 January for masks used on public transport and in shops.
Interestingly, however, the German government’s new rules do not appear to cover air travel and Lufthansa Group essentially admits as much when it says that its new mask requirements will allow for “uniform rules along the entire travel chain”. If this was a legal requirement Lufthansa Group would have said so.
A little ironically, as it was in the same press release that announced the new strict mask rules for travel on its airlines, Lufthansa Group reminds customers of the following:
“In principle, infection on board is very unlikely. All Lufthansa Group aircraft are equipped with the highest quality air filters, which ensure air quality similar to that in an operating theater. In addition, the air circulates vertically instead of being dispersed throughout the cabin.”
As in the past, mask exemptions are available for flights on Lufthansa Group airlines but only for medical reasons and only “if the medical certificate is issued on a form provided by Lufthansa and a negative Covid 19 test is available that is not older than 48 hours at the scheduled start of the journey“.
Ok. So on the one hand Lufthansa Group is saying that it is voluntarily forcing passengers to wear medical-grade face masks (presumably because they’re needed to protect people more than they’re already protected by regular masks and the on board technology) while on the other hand, it’s telling customers that the amazing filters and air circulation on board its aircraft mean that “infection on board is very unlikely”.
That sounds like mixed messaging to me.
I’m all in favor of masks and making sure that everyone who travels has to wear one (if you don’t like wearing a mask, don’t travel. It’s as simple as that) but I’m starting to resent the propaganda that airlines are trotting out over and over again about the air filters and the air circulation on board.
Just like masks aren’t infallible, neither are the air filters or the air circulation systems on board aircraft. If the filters were as great as most airlines would have us believe, there wouldn’t be any instances of virus transmission during travel, so it’s time airlines stopped beating the drum for how fantastic they are.
Those of us who support the wearing of masks are mostly happy to admit that they have limitations and that they’re there as a tool to help reduce the spread of the virus and that they aren’t a silver bullet. It’s time for the airline industry to do the same when it comes to its on board technology.
Here’s a simple message I’d like airlines to take on board (no pun intended!): Please, let’s have no more talk about how awesome your air filters are. If members of your industry are happy to voluntarily insist that medical-grade masks have to be worn during boarding, in flight, and during disembarkation, you have to be happy to admit that your air filters aren’t magical or a near-perfect weapon against in-flight transmission. They’re not. Most of us have known this for months so please stop treating us all like idiots and let us all just concentrate on keeping each other as safe as possible. Thanks.
If you’re traveling to/from Germany on a Lufthansa Group airline from 1 February onwards, be prepared to bring a medical-grade mask with you or you may not be allowed to travel. I’m not sure how gate agents and flight attendants are meant to police this requirement (I’d be surprised if more than a handful of them can tell the difference between a good regular mask and an N95 rated mask while they’re being worn by passengers that are walking past them) but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.