- The wearing of face masks while in flight will no longer be enforced by airlines in South Africa.
- This follows a repeal of the last remaining Covid-19 regulations gazetted on Wednesday evening.
- Passengers now have a choice of whether to wear a face mask or not.
- That is likely to make some passengers uncomfortable, according to airlines which hope travellers, regardless of their face mask preferences, treat each other courteously and with respect.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Airlines in South Africa say they will no longer mandate passengers to wear face masks on board flights in the wake of government's decision to repeal Covid-19 regulations but expect that some travellers may be uncomfortable.
South Africans are no longer required to wear face masks in public-use indoor spaces or when on public transport, following a repeal of the last remaining Covid-19 regulations on Wednesday evening.
Airlines, as a form of public transport, have upheld mask mandates throughout the pandemic, requiring passengers to cover their faces while on board, except for when drinking or eating.
Now, in line with the recent repeal gazetted by Health Minister Joe Phaahla, supported by correspondence from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), airlines will no longer enforce face mask-wearing. The choice of whether to wear a face mask or not will be left to individual passengers.
"We've always stuck to the guidance of the regulation, and we'll follow that in this regard, too," Kirby Gordon, FlySafair's chief marketing officer, told Business Insider SA.
"On advice received from the SACAA this morning, masks will be optional on flights going forward."
Airlines in South Africa are the latest to drop their face mask mandates, following similar moves by carriers in the United Kingdom and United States earlier in the year. These initial changes were met with confusion and apprehension, especially on international flights, with some passengers hesitant to sit alongside their fellow, unmasked travellers.
"It's hard to determine exactly how folks are going to react exactly," said Gordon when asked if FlySafair expects some passengers to feel uncomfortable without the face mask mandate.
"I've no doubt that there will be those who are not totally comfortable being close to those that are not wearing masks – it's become such a norm for so many. Our hope is that people will act courteously toward one another with understanding that wearing your own mask affords you a primary level of protection and understanding that, as per the regulation, there is no obligation on another to do the same."
This sentiment is echoed by CemAir CEO, Miles van der Molen, who told Business Insider that without mandates, the choice of wearing or not wearing a face mask needs to be handled with respect by both the airline and passengers.
"We will not be promoting [the] use of masks. If someone chooses to wear a mask, we respect their decision," said Van der Molen.
"We would not support any passenger trying to impose their mask choice on others, and if they created a disturbance, they would be disembarked."