Passengers will no longer need to wear face masks in airports or on flights in Europe from next week.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued a joint statement on the easing of Covid-19 measures for air travel.

The new recommendations will come into effect on May 16, though the release states that rules for masks will “continue to vary by airline beyond that date”. As an example, it says that mask-wearing should be encouraged when flying to or from a destination where it is required on public transport.

The statement also recommends that vulnerable passengers continue to wear a face mask, preferably the FFP2/N95/KN95 type, as well as those who are coughing and sneezing “for the reassurance of those seated nearby”.

Airport operators are advised to avoid imposing distance requirements if these are likely to lead to a “bottleneck in another location in the passenger journey”.

EASA executive director Patrick Ky said:

“It is a relief to all of us that we are finally reaching a stage in the pandemic where we can start to relax the health safety measures. For many passengers, and also aircrew members, there is a strong desire for masks to no longer be a mandatory part of air travel. We are now at the start of that process.

“Passengers should continue to comply with the requirements of their airline and, where preventive measures are optional, make responsible decisions and respect the choice of other passengers.”

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added:

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal…

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission…

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination States should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.

The release also noted the risk of new variant of concerns, advising airport staff, crew members and passengers to “be alert and follow the recommendations and requirements of the national authorities of the State or region they are visiting.”

Last month US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle overturned the US travel mask mandate, with US airlines advising customers that they are no longer required to wear masks on their flights.