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Update 16 March: It looks like British Airways has backtracked – click for more information
While guidance has remained in place in some areas, the UK population has been free of domestic Covid restrictions for almost a month and despite a sign that hospitalisations due to Covid may be on the rise, the UK government has announced that all remaining travel restrictions are being lifted and the UK’s two long-haul carriers have announced an end to mask-wearing onboard.
The UK drops travel restrictions entirely
Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, has confirmed that as of 04:00 on Friday 18 March, all of the nation’s remaining travel restrictions will be lifted returning the UK to a position it hasn’t been in for almost two years.
For those of us who have a bit of common sense and who aren’t beholden to know-nothing idiots on social media for our news, this isn’t a big deal as vaccinated travelers have been able to visit the the UK without the need for pre-departure or post-arrival testing for weeks. The winners here are unvaccinated travelers who will no longer need to take a Covid test in the two days before visiting the UK or a test upon arrival.
Also on the way out is the UK’s passenger locator form which, to all intents and purposes, was an ill-conceived waste of everybody’s time and which nobody will miss.
The UK’s long-haul carriers drop mask requirements
Alongside the government’s announcement that the last remaining travel restrictions are being lifted on Friday came the news that British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Heathrow Airport are all dropping their mask requirements from tomorrow, Wednesday 16 March 2022.
This is what British Airways had to say:
“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.”
This is what Virgin Atlantic has tweeted:
“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. The mask rules that apply will depend on the route you’re flying, because requirements differ by destination.”
And this is what Heathrow put out in a press release
“Those travelling through Heathrow will no longer be required to wear a face covering after the airport announced that it is moving away from a mandate from Wednesday 16 March. In recognition that the pandemic is not over, Heathrow strongly encourages 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 of Heathrow’s terminals, bus and railway stations and office spaces.”
Importantly, as British Airways has pointed out in its release, while airlines can say that they no longer require passengers to wear masks, it doesn’t mean that masks will not have to be worn onboard. The final word on whether passengers are required to wear masks on any given flight lies with the authorities with jurisdiction over that flight.
So, for example, if you happen to be flying to the United States (where mask are still mandatory on all flights until at least 18 April), you will still be required to wear a mask for the duration of your journey. For some destinations, a mask may not have to be worn for the flight but will have to be worn upon landing. Travelers are therefore advised to carry a mask with them even if traveling with an airline that has removed the need to masks to be worn onboard.
From 04:00 this coming Friday, anyone will be able to travel to the UK without having to take any Covid tests before departure or after arrival. In addition, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow have all indicated that they will be removing their mask mandates from tomorrow, 16 March 2022.