The UK's busiest airport will abandon the requirement to wear a mask from Wednesday this week.
Face coverings at Heathrow will no longer be mandatory, though the airport “strongly encourages those at the airport to continue wearing a face covering – particularly when coming into close contact with others”.
A statement read: “Face coverings will remain available at the airport to support those who wish to continue wearing them.
“We know some passengers may feel vulnerable, and we are encouraging colleagues to be respectful and put on a face covering when near a passenger who requests it.
“Should a significant rise in Covid cases or a future variant of concern materialise, Heathrow will not hesitate to reinstate the mandatory use of face coverings at the airport.”
The change applies across all of Heathrow’s terminals, bus and railway stations and office spaces. Heathrow says it mirrors steps taken by other transport organisations in the UK.
The airport’s chief operating officer, Emma Gilthorpe, said: “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.”
Jet2 and Tui have both announced a move to optional mask rules on some flights.
Jason Mahoney, BA’s 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.”
Corneel Koster, chief customer and operating officer for Virgin Atlantic, said: “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.
“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.
“This policy will be introduced gradually, beginning with our Caribbean services from Heathrow and Manchester airports.
“We encourage everyone to be respectful of fellow passengers’ mask preferences.”
“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.”
The news came minutes after the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that the UK passenger locator form and Covid testing rules are to be abandoned on Friday at 4am.
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