Qantas’ Surprising Face Mask Policy

Filed Under: Qantas

Qantas has today announced the details of their “Fly Well” program, which includes a series of measures that will roll out as of June 12, 2020, to make the flying experience safer.

Qantas will offer face masks, won’t require they be worn

Once onboard, Qantas will provide masks to passengers on each flight. The airline says that while wearing the face mask isn’t mandatory from a safety point of view, the airline “recommends” masks be worn for everyone’s peace of mind.

This is an interesting policy for a couple of reasons:

  • You’d think it would make the most sense to hand out masks earlier in the journey, like at check-in, since in many cases social distancing isn’t possible at the airport, and that poses a risk as well; of course some people skip check-in, so that’s not an ideal solution either
  • Qantas is one of the few airlines that isn’t making wearing a face mask mandatory, but then again, in the US flight attendants are being told not to enforce face mask policies

In fairness, it’s worth acknowledging that Australia has handled the current pandemic extremely well, with a very limited number of cases and deaths, at least compared to other countries. For flights not traveling to other regions, I assume COVID-19 just isn’t as much of a concern as it is in other parts of the world.

Qantas’ CEO, Alan Joyce, said the following about the face mask policy:

“We’re relying on the cooperation of passengers to help make these changes work for everyone’s benefit, and we thank them in advance for that. Given the great job Australians have done at flattening the curve, we’re confident they’ll respond positively to these temporary changes to how we fly.”

Qantas’ Medical Director, Dr. Ian Hosegood, said the following about the safety of flying right now:

“The data shows that actual risk of catching Coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low. That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier. As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport.

Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe. The extra measures we’re putting place will reduce the risk even further.”

Qantas will offer passengers face masks

Other Qantas safety measures

In addition to offering face masks but not requiring that passengers wear them, the airline is rolling out a series of other initiatives.

Qantas’ pre-flight initiatives include the following:

  • The airline encourages contactless check-in (via the website and app) and self-serve bag drop
  • Hand sanitizing stations will be offered at departure gates
  • Qantas Lounges will feature increased physical distancing, hand sanitizing stations, enhanced disinfection of surfaces, and adjustments to food & drink services

Qantas’ onboard initiatives include the following (in addition to the above mask policy):

  • Enhanced cleaning of aircraft with a disinfectant effective against COVID-19, with a focus on high contact areas
  • Sanitizing wipes given to all passengers to wipe down seats
  • Simplified service and catering to minimize touch points for crews and passengers
  • Passengers will be asked to limit movement around the cabin once seated
  • Boarding and disembarking will be sequenced to minimize crowding

Qantas is implementing several new safety measures

Bottom line

Qantas is taking a different approach than other airlines when it comes to face masks. They are offering face masks to passengers, but aren’t forcing passengers to wear the them.

Of the airlines that have introduced updated safety protocols (not all airlines have, because not all have resumed flying), nearly all of them have made masks mandatory, so it’s surprising to see Qantas taking a different approach, especially given that they won’t be blocking middle seats.

I’ll be curious to see if “relying on the cooperation of passengers” does the trick, or if we see a bunch of arguments breaking out on Qantas flights over use of face masks.

What do you make of Qantas’ policy of offering passengers face masks but not requiring they be worn?

  1. Masks are really not a thing down here. I’m one of the few people wearing on the on the street for whatever reason the government hasn’t emphasised them. However cases and community transmission are low here. Better safe than sorry, I don’t want to be spreading the virus around if I catch it.

    Good on Qantas for this even if it will be a while before I’ll need Amor what to get on a plane.

  2. Given how low the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 is in the Australian/NZ population just now there’s probably little additional benefit from using them.

  3. This is because Australia has handled Covid-19 extremly well – the best in the world, there have been under 100 deaths nationwide and very little new cases recently in all states. E.G in WA (2.8 Million Population) there are just 3 active cases currently.

  4. Good for Qantas, at least one airline showing a bit of sense and not falling victim to the idiotic idea than face masks prevent and cure every known disease and others besides.

    Those who want to wear one can do so, but no one should be fooled that if they are taken on and off, and never replaced, in the course of a flight by people who neglect hand hygiene, they are a complete waste of time.

    World Health Organisation advice has been clear and consistent from the outset. Folks who think wearing masks or other fancy dress is a smart idea are just sad fashion victims.

  5. At last! Some guys who are honest about things with their paying customers and not treating them like dumb kids.

  6. It’s actually not really a thing here in Australia to wear a mask. It hasn’t been mandated anywhere. (And we seem to be doing quite well…)

  7. The Australian federal government and state governments have not mandated the wearing of masks so Qantas is actually doing more than the government has asked of them. So far 5 personal trips cancelled. Bring on July – hopefully the domestic market opens back up.

  8. @roger mellie If wearing a mask makes a person feel more comfortable about stepping out, so be it. But let’s not judge them and call them sad fashion victims; their masks are not getting in your way, are they?

    On another note, I wonder how realistic it will be to minimise cabin movement on long flights like PER – LHR. Assuming these also restart soon.

  9. Vijay there are no plans to start international flights anytime soon. Some of the state borders are still shut to non residents and even within the states, certain regions are shut (to protect indigenous communities). I am hoping the domestic routes open up soon

  10. It all makes sense but I would have them available at check-in much like the paper luggage tags. Face masks are over-hyped though so I’d assume if someone is that paranoid they would avoid flying or they would have one with them before they get to the airport. I’m flying on Thursday with Southwest for a short and will wear a face mask if asked to some degree but will not otherwise. It aggravates my asthma to a severe degree when I wear a mask for more than short periods. I certainly wouldn’t wear a mask for long haul flights to Australia.

  11. Australia has indeed been spared some of the worst of COVID-19, but that’s because the country is an island that has basically locked down to any international (and domestic) movement. As soon as those aircraft start up, it’s going to be much harder to contain.

    Which means that the attitude towards masks – “we don’t use them, and we’re doing fine” – isn’t realistic in the long term. What we DO know about masks is that they help the wearer to avoid spread. Seems like a no brainer when the “travel bubble” bursts. There’s no way I would let my elderly parents on ANY airline where masks are voluntary.

  12. Bear in mind that this policy exists inside a coronavirus-free bubble. Australia has practically eliminated community spread by self-isolating everyone, quarantining all overseas arrivals in hotels under police guard for 14 days, and pouring massive resources into testing, tracing and isolating local cases to whack-a-mole every flare-up out of existence. Now it’s opening back up with fewer than 100 deaths despite getting its first case before the US did. When the border is relaxed, and Qantas resumes operations outside the bubble, expect a much stricter policy.

  13. Make sense for a country that managed to stop the influx early and has therefore had a very low prevalence of the disease. But keep in mind that the policy is little more than a PR exercise with almost no real life impact since Australia has still not opened its borders to nonresidents and still bans some intra-country travel. There is very little downside risk to announcing a policy that reflects what’s happened in Australia, not the rest of the world. I would expect them to change their policy for international flights, depending on when/how Australia and the destination country change their border entry policies and the prevalence of the disease in destination countries (most other countries still have closed borders too). Can’t really compare this at this stage to what other carriers are doing in countries with much higher rates of infection.

  14. Hardly anyone wears a mask in Denmark. and numbers of infected people have been dropping steadily for 7 weeks in a row now.

  15. Fact is that masks make no difference, except in uncritical minds. But hey, if putting on a mask means they leave their emotional support livestock behind, great.

  16. Regarding face masks – the experience in Korea has been quite the opposite of what the Europeans/Americans have experienced. (The masks here are rated ones – standards are similar to N95. It might be the difference…) Facemasks have been very effective in preventing COVID spread – a nurse tested positive after being in contact with more than hundred people but only one, who had coffee with the nurse (only time when the nurse had facemask off, for obvious reason) of them got infected. Government do not mandate facemask but it does encourage use of facemasks. Many shops/airlines/etc. have “no mask, no enterance” policy.

    For reference, Korea has not had “lockdown” like the ones implemented in the US/Europe but it’s been two months since we had three-digit positive cases a day – and total number of (accumulated) positive cases sits around 11K (in a country with 50M people – similar to Spain).

    Regarding airlines – during MERS/SARS outbreak, we definitely had diseases spread through airplane so an airplane might not be that low-risk in terms of COVID risk…

  17. Given Australia’s geographic status and their government’s comprehensive containment policy (that was adhered to by most people) it will be a good case study in SIP if and when international travel opens up. If positive cases/illnesses spike, then we will have conclusive proof of SIP effectiveness. A non spike or small spike may be somewhat inconclusive if entry/exit and social protocols are strictly enforced. Oz’s situation cannot be replicated in every country, let alone the US, even with cooperative and enlightened leadership but kudos for them (and others) to keep it largely in check.

  18. Classic Ozzie common sense, instead of just virtue signalling that poorly worn and cheap masked will stop somebody with weak immunity from getting this virus.

  19. Really? Australia did ok for a western country, but far from “best in the world”. Multiple Asian countries have all done better than Australia, and they all used masks.

  20. @David

    Taiwan did better with a population the same size as Australia and only 7 deaths to today..

    The “doing better” has nothing to do with the masks – its all about when and how the country SHUT DOWN people entering. Period.

    The US has about 13 times the population (328M vs 25M 2019) and the deaths are into 90,000 (91,592 as of May 19)- as opposed to 100 total as of today in Australia. No lockdown, little social conscience.

    Masks do nothing for the wearer. They possibly limit the long distance spread of the virus if someone sneezes or coughs. The real spread is from contamination and if you watch someone with a mask (even health care workers being interviewed on tv) you see them constantly touching the front of the mask then other things around them. Any protection instantly gone. Our experience in many hour flying in Asia over the last years since SARS and MERS has been that even though Asia wears a mask they do not use them properly and so they are actually worse than no mask at all. Unless you are constantly spreading via sneezing.

    Avoid contact with any surface that is shiny. Wash your hands every time you touch anything and the rest will probably be all right. Forget the mask. Unless you use it properly or it makes you happy.

  21. @Azamaraal

    Flying in Asia doesn’t make you an expert. I suppose being Asian and having lived in Asia makes me a world class epidemiologist now? The numbers have spoken, countries that wore masks early on all have lower transmission. Even SK was able to reverse their early outbreak. Some Westerners like yourself still stubbornly give all these non-nonsensical reasons for why you think it doesn’t work, and harm others because of your ridiculous stubbornness.

    Lockdowns don’t stop the spread of COVID, it just slows it down, and Taiwan didn’t lockdown much earlier than anyone, if at all. The only immigration control they did early on was from China, and other countries did the same thing.

  22. “Qantas is one of the few airlines that isn’t making wearing a face mask mandatory”

    While you have made it obvious that you like mandatory mask wearing, your statement regarding mandatory mask wearage is incorrect, e.g., JAL: “Passengers will now be requested to wear a face mask when traveling on JAL Group flights.”

  23. Agreed, David it wasn’t “the best in the world” as Morgan proclaimed, although it was a generally good approach, although slow to start, and then slow to follow up in the middle.

    As said, look to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore for generally better approaches (which doesn’t mean perfect – but Australia’s wasn’t either. Our biggest advantage was our remoteness, and geographic separation.

  24. Well said David! I don’t like wearing a mask too, but during this pandemic, I cannot be selfish or stubborn. In fact, I think It is our civic duty to wear one when in public right now.

  25. Australia has done pretty well, certainly compared to the USA and western Europe. But still, mistakes were made. The obvious one is the Ruby Princess debacle, where 2700 odd passengers were just allowed to disembark in the middle of Sydney before returning home in various parts of Australia to spread the virus. The Aus. government early on also seemed to try to make its messaging about COVID restrictions as confusing as possible and while they were fast to block travelers from China they were a bit sluggish to block travelers from the USA and other affected places.

    On the actual article, I’m not really sure what QF is trying to do. “Yes, COVID is serious and here are some masks but we’re not actually going to make anyone wear them (even if mask wearing is more about protecting the people near the wearer rather than the wearer him/herself)”. Remember that this is an airline that takes what its paying passengers wear so seriously that it will refuse entry to its lounges if you wear the wrong shoes, so to suddenly be so laissez-faire about face masks in the middle of a pandemic is a bit odd to me.

  26. The Australian response has been successful, with the notable and tragic exception of a fiasco involving a cruise ship …Ruby Princess, permitted to dock and disembark in Sydney despite significant flu-like illness onboard.
    The vast majority of cases have involved returning travelers, many of them from the USA. Indeed, it was very apparent to everyone in Australia that there must have been a huge underestimation of the number of cases in the US, as many, many cases were people getting off QF and UA…at a time when President Trump was still saying “no big deal”
    I wear a mask, more out of habit from time spent in Asia, where it’s viewed as a courtesy to others as much as anything else.

  27. What a great and sensible policy. At best, only 7% of the global population is truly at-risk from becoming severely ill and dying from COVID-19 (per latest CFAR statistics). Only a fraction of this 7% population will actually die (i.e., mortality rate). Thus, 93% of the population will be perfectly fine with or without contracting the virus. It makes no sense to burden 100% of a population in order to protect a 7% subset that is also perfectly capable of (and has been advised to) taking steps to protect themselves. A better policy would be to more strongly recommend — maybe mandate — that individuals falling into this 7% of the population take the necessary steps to social distance, self-isolate, and quarantine. Then, no one will die, regardless of how rapidly this spreads. No masks, no economic destruction, no canceling of flights, no more travel restrictions. Obviously, though, we still have people dying from COVID-19, which means we have an extremely stupid and selfish subset of the 7% at-risk group that is purposefully placing themselves in situations where they can receive the virus…. This is the group that needs to cease and desist!!

    Of course, all this assumes we want to stop COVID-19 deaths. That’s my goal. I could care less about slowing the spread. Maybe everyone wearing masks is doing so to put on a good show and avoid being shamed for not doing so.

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