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Why aren’t Qantas and Virgin making face masks compulsory?


Man wearing face mask at airport

The thinking at Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar explained.

Every Australian airline wants passengers to wear face masks to help restrict the spread of coronavirus. But outside Victoria, only Rex actually makes them compulsory. What gives?

I've been thinking about this after writing about how mask rules are being applied in Australia. Obviously the number of passengers flying is much lower than normal. International passenger flights are restricted to ever-rarer repatriation services. Planes do have onboard air filtering that's better than most indoor spaces, and strict cleaning regimes.

As part of their in-flight "wellness initiatives", Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar all supply disposable masks to passengers and "encourage" their use, but don't require it. Rex stands alone in insisting everyone wear a mask, other than when consuming your in-flight snack. (If you don't have your own mask, the airline will sell you one at check-in.)

You have to ask: if airlines are already providing masks for everyone, why not require people to wear them? The Flight Attendants' Association of Australia wants that to be the policy, so both crew and passengers are protected. But it hasn't happened yet.

With Victoria's mask mandate for Melbourne and surrounds coming into effect today, Qantas, Virgin and Jetstar are now all requiring masks for flights into or from Melbourne, where temperature checks for all passengers are also in effect. But those rules aren't changing for flights between other states.

"We are recommending that they be worn, but customers won't be forced to wear them," a Qantas spokesperson told Finder. "We know that some would prefer not to. But if customers show symptoms in flight, they must wear a mask." (The same considerations apply for Jetstar, which Qantas owns.)

Virgin takes a similar approach. "Due to the different COVID-related measures applied in some states and territories, and ongoing changes to border restrictions and regulation, passengers may notice some variations in the implementation of our health and wellbeing initiatives," a Virgin spokesperson told Finder.

Both airlines point out that the federal Chief Medical Officer hasn't suggested that mask wearing be mandated yet. If that changed, or rules shifted in other states, airline rules would doubtless change too, as they have in Victoria.

Myself, I'll definitely be wearing a mask the next time I fly. That isn't happening until September, and even then will be dependent on whether state restrictions change again. But whatever the timing, I won't be getting on board without doing what I can to help restrict the spread of COVID-19.

Need help finding a mask? Here's our guide to the key features to look for.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more.

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Picture: Getty Images

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