The United Kingdom's largest airport and two major British airlines have dropped their mask mandates, the BBC reported on Wednesday, even as U.S. president Joe Biden has kept his travel mask mandate in place and fought attempts to end it.
London's Heathrow Airport, along with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, will now only require passengers to wear masks if the country they travel to mandates it. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in January ended the United Kingdom's mask requirement on public transportation.
President Joe Biden promised during his 2020 campaign to "shut down the virus," but during his presidency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have prolonged most pandemic restrictions. The CDC recently extended its mask mandate on public transportation until April 18. Biden levied the mandate via executive order shortly after he was inaugurated. In February, Biden also extended his national emergency declaration for the pandemic, citing its "significant risk to the public health and safety of the Nation."
The White House's chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci suggest last year that masks on planes may never go away.
"I think when you're dealing with a close space, even though the filtration is good, that you want to go that extra step."
Fauci was responding to a Senate hearing in December, in which top airline CEOs suggested that superior air filtration on planes precludes the need for masks. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said "the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment," which is "very safe and high-quality compared to any other indoor setting." And American Airlines CEO Doug Parker concurred that airplanes are "the safest place you can be" indoors amid the pandemic because "they all have the same HEPA filters and air flow."
Studies have also shown that the risk of spreading COVID-19 on planes is low, even among the unvaccinated. In a Department of Defense study conducted in 2020, researchers found fellow travelers must be exposed to an infected passenger for at least 54 hours to contract COVID-19.
Despite supporting some of the strictest masking measures, Democrats have often been photographed barefaced while flying. In July, Texas Democratic lawmakers chartered private flights to Washington, D.C., to forestall the Republican-led legislature from passing bills on election reform and gun rights.
The CDC also requires incoming travelers to the United States to provide a negative COVID test, which the United Kingdom no longer requires.