Wearing face masks on flights will be one of the last COVID measures to be dropped globally and could be enforced for years, experts have said.
Different coronavirus measures around the world will mean airlines are unable to move individually in allowing passengers to travel without coverings, sources have told The Times.
Other such travel rules are being eased by individual governments, with tests for fully vaccinated arrivals in England being scrapped from next Friday, 11 February.
But the newspaper reports that UK carriers are seeking “international consistency” before lifting the rule on masks, and will “act as one” when easing measures.
A senior aviation source said: “Until there is a harmonised lifting of mask mandates on flights by governments worldwide it is simpler for airlines to keep the rules in place.”
Most British airlines are following guidelines from bodies including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
The guidelines say that masks should be worn for the duration of flights, except when eating and drinking.
What are the airlines saying?
Virgin Atlantic told Sky News it adheres to guidance from international and local aviation regulators and governments and has no plans to lift the face mask measure yet.
“We continue to input to the regulators and work together across industry to see when changes can be made, however until further notice, we will require all customers and crew to continue to wear face masks for the duration of their flights, as well as at the airports,” said a statement.
Neil Sorahan, Ryanair’s chief financial officer, also said that there were no plans to change the rules.
He said: “Masks will be something that will be with us for a while longer to come. If that is the price we have to pay for the next few months, into summer – it’s a small price to pay.”
Mr Sorahan said the mask rule would remain in place, similar to how rules on passengers removing liquids from hand luggage at security have been kept over the years.
That measure was introduced in 2006, when police foiled a plot to blow up airliners using liquid explosives.
Another airline source told The Times: “We’ll almost certainly keep the same policy until it is safe to move. For example, the rules in the US are very clear on masks. It would be ridiculous of us to ask passengers to put them on when we enter their airspace.”
And another said that although there were “hopes that one day we will have a world with no masks… they are going to be with us for a long time”.