South Africans must still wear a mask when flying to the UK – but not necessarily to the US

Business Insider SA
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
  • UK airlines British Airways and Virgin Atlantic and US carriers Delta Air Lines and United Airlines recently dropped their mask mandates.
  • But that doesn't mean all passengers aboard these flights have the option not to wear a mask, and policies will be decided according to regulations in the country of arrival and, most times, departure.
  • British Airways and Virgin Atlantic make specific mention of flights to and from South Africa that are still subject to the mask mandate.
  • Delta also says passengers on board flights to and from South Africa will need to mask up.
  • United Airlines doesn't mention a mask mandate for passengers travelling from South Africa.
  • And an aviation expert says these flights include a cabin crew announcement after take-off, giving passengers from South Africa the option to remove their masks.
  • For more stories go to

Airlines in the United Kingdom and United States have recently made the wearing of face masks optional as opposed to mandatory. But, South African travellers are, for the most part, still required to cover up.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which both operate regular, direct flights to South Africa, announced in mid-March their decision to drop onboard face mask mandates.

The airlines' stringent face mask policies, which existed throughout the bulk of the Covid-19 pandemic, were eased in line with the UK government's decision to remove all restrictions for international arrivals ahead of the Easter holidays.

But the recent policy change hasn't been straightforward – initially leading to confusion on board – and doesn't apply to all passengers.

Whether or not passengers are allowed to remove their face masks in-flight depends on where they're travelling to or from. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic passengers travelling to and from South Africa, where the wearing of masks on public transport and in airport terminals is still mandated, will need to cover up for the duration of their flights except for when eating or drinking.

"For customers travel to and from South Africa, masks are still required," Anna Catchpole, Virgin Atlantic's senior PR manager, told Business Insider South Africa.

Virgin Atlantic further lists specific routes to or from the UK where masks are still required for passengers aged 12 and above, including Delhi, Islamabad, Lahore, Lagos, Mumbai, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, and Johannesburg.

"We require customers to wear masks on flights to and from South Africa, in line with guidelines," a British Airways representative told Business Insider SA.

It's not only UK airlines that have decided to drop their face mask mandates. Airlines in the US changed their policies following a court ruling that overturned the mandatory wearing of face masks on planes, trains, and other public transportation on Monday, 18 April.

Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, which operate frequent flight paths between America and South Africa, updated their policies immediately after the court ruling.

"Masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members, and customers inside US airports and onboard all aircraft domestically, as well as on most international flights," Delta said in a statement.

But like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, Delta Air Lines' new face mask policy is decided according to local government mandates.

"International mask requirements vary and are determined by local governments," a Delta spokesperson told Business Insider SA.

"When travelling internationally, we recommend customers take a mask in case it is required by their departure or arrival country, or during other parts of their journey."

Delta's travel information centre notes that face masks are required on flights to and from South Africa.

United Airlines, which flies from New York to Johannesburg and Cape Town, words its face mask policy differently from other carriers. Specifically, United Airlines notes that "whether face coverings are required is dependent upon the arrival country's mask requirements."

For passengers flying into South Africa – from anywhere in the world, on any airline – face mask mandates still exist. But for passengers flying on United, out of South Africa and into the US, face masks are optional, according to the airline's latest policy update.

This was confirmed by aviation expert Linden Burns, who, after speaking to an airline operations manager, told Business Insider SA that carriers without mandates would typically announce the option to remove face masks after take-off.

"Passengers travelling from South Africa to other countries must wear masks when boarding," said Burns.

"If the wearing of a mask is not a requirement of the flight's destination country, then masks may be removed once a cabin announcement has been made to that effect. Passengers travelling from other countries to South Africa are required to wear their masks throughout their entire flight as it is a South African travel requirement."

In the case of US and UK carriers that have recently amended their policies, only United Airlines doesn't explicitly mandate the wearing of face masks on flights from South Africa, meaning that a cabin announcement, as described by Burns, is likely to apply.

Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.