Heathrow airport is to remove the requirement to wear a face covering from Wednesday (16 March) as Covid-19 restrictions continue to be reduced.

The UK’s hub airport said passengers would no longer be mandated to wear masks at its terminals, rail stations and offices, although people would still be “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have also decided to make wearing face masks a matter of “personal choice” on their flights – except when travelling to destinations which still require face coverings to be worn by passengers, such as the US.

Heathrow’s chief operating officer Emma Gilthorpe said: “We acted quickly to institute face coverings as one of our first lines of defence, and we’re pleased that we’re now able to move away from a mandatory requirement as society learns to live with Covid longer term.

“While we still recommend wearing them, we can be confident the investments we’ve made in Covid-secure measures – some of which aren’t always visible – combined with the fantastic protection provided by the vaccine will continue to keep people safe while travelling.”

Virgin Atlantic said it would now make wearing a mask onboard its flights a matter of personal choice for passengers on routes where “international regulations around mask-wearing do not apply”.

Corneel Koster, chief customer and operating officer, added: “This policy will be introduced gradually, beginning with our Caribbean services from Heathrow and Manchester airports and we encourage everyone to be respectful of fellow passengers’ mask preferences.

“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. 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.”

British Airways is adopting a similar policy from 16 March with passengers only having to wear a face mask if their destination requires it.

Jason Mahoney, BA’s chief operating officer, added: “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. 

“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.”

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