Ireland’s two largest airlines have clarified that the facial coverings they are expecting passengers and crew to wear inflight in order to ensure protection from infection as a result of Covid-19 will not be aligned with official EU guidelines.
Aer Lingus yesterday became the latest entity to outline its guidelines for safe travel while the coronavirus remains present in society.
The airline, which is wholly owned by International Airlines Group (IAG), said facial coverings will be mandatory on all flights, with the exception of small children and those unable to wear one for medical reasons.
It said the coverings can be in the form of a reusable cloth mask or a disposable mask, and would be expected to be worn from the time passengers enter a departure airport to the time they leave the airport at their destination.
Ryanair, meanwhile, had previously “welcomed” advice released by the European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) on May 21 saying that those guidelines were “based on science, as opposed to ineffective quarantines”.
The airline called on the Taoiseach to “read the evidence” and remove restrictions on international travel and the recently introduced mandatory quarantine of 14 days for all travellers inbound into Ireland via ports and airports. It said it would be resuming flights across Europe from July 1, with all passengers and crew required to wear facial coverings.
The EASA guidelines for the maintenance of health and safety for air passengers during the pandemic state that the “wearing of medical face masks should be recommended” for all passengers and people within both the airport and aircraft. Further, the protocol states that the use of such masks should only be seen as “a complementary measure” to established anti-virus measures such as social distancing.
However, medical-grade face masks are not the same as lower-grade, or even homemade, facial coverings - a fact underlined at length within the EU guidelines.
A medical face mask is a superior-quality professional device covering the mouth, nose, and chin to ensure a respiratory barrier between hospital staff and patients. Due to concerns over their potential scarcity for frontline workers given the problems faced worldwide regarding the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE), the use of medical-grade masks has not been recommended for citizens by the Irish public health authorities.
Non-medical coverings are not standardised and are not either intended nor suitable for use in clinical settings.
Queried as to why medical masks would be required on its flights, an Aer Lingus spokesperson said its interpretation of the European protocol is “appropriate” and in line with the Government’s own guidelines recommending the use of masks on public transport.
“Therefore, we’re not requiring that passengers use medical grade face masks,” they said, adding that social distancing would likewise not be required on board.
Meanwhile, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary on Friday wrote an open letter to Health Minister Simon Harris urging him to “read the science” and immediately withdraw the 14-day quarantine period. The airline said it would be making no further comment on the matter.
In recommending the implementation of that isolation period Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) stated that the single greatest reason for doing so is that it would act as “the greatest deterrent” against any non-essential travel.
Further to its mask requirement, Aer Lingus said it would be introducing “significantly enhanced cleaning processes on all aircraft”, together with new boarding and disembarkation procedures which would see passengers doing so in small groups, according to seat row numbers.