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Rex, Virgin and AAA back moves to mandate masks nationwide

written by Adam Thorn | January 11, 2021

Rex, Virgin and the Australian Airports Association (AAA) have backed new rules requiring passengers on domestic flights to wear masks nationwide.

Previously, the rule only applied to NSW and Victoria, but the regulations were updated on Friday following a national cabinet meeting that debated how to prevent a second wave of COVID from leaking out of hotel quarantine.

AAA Chief Executive James Goodwin said wearing masks should become second nature. “All travellers should arrive at the airport prepared with their own mask,” said Goodwin. “Airports have been and will continue to assist governments and the nation during the pandemic despite significant drops in revenue.”

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The AAA also pointed to a survey it had commissioned that found 83 per cent of passengers would wear a face mask travelling domestically and 71 per cent would be more confident to fly if they were made mandatory.

Virgin also backed the move, and it’s understood the airline will now be preventing people boarding the aircraft if a mask is not worn and there’s not a reasonable exemption.

Rex was Australia’s only major airline to make masks mandatory back in May, and even asked passengers to bring their own or face purchasing one at check-in.

“The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had recommended the wearing of face masks on-board since May 2020 and on 1 June 2020, Rex mandated the wearing of face masks at check-in counters, boarding gates, during tarmac transfers and upon disembarkation, as well as during the flight,” said the business’ national airports manager, David Brooksby.

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“Rex will always act in the best interest of its passengers and staff and will never compromise on safety even though Rex may have lost passengers who did not wish to comply, to other carriers that did not follow IATA’s guidelines.”

Announcing the tightening of the rules last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that all individuals – including travellers and staff – must adhere to more stringent infection prevention controls.

“That includes: passengers to wear masks throughout international flights, crew to wear masks and other personal protective equipment where appropriate, airlines to have appropriate infection prevention and control measures onboard aircraft, and all individuals within Australian and international airport environments to wear a mask,” PM Morrison said.

Currently, Qantas provides each customer with a complimentary face mask at the gate, within its “Fly Well” packs.

In areas not covered by the law change, the airline’s policy was that it simply strongly recommended face coverings were worn.

Customers are also handed wipes to wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests if preferred and there is also sequenced boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding.

Earlier in the pandemic, it kept the middle seat free for domestic flights – though this policy was later reversed.

Virgin Australia updated its policy in July to “actively encourage” passengers to wear masks nationwide and hand them out prior to boarding.

More generally, customers flying to and from Melbourne have been required to wear face coverings since 23 July in line with local restrictions there and in NSW since early January.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac has previously insisted he prefers mandating masks rather than keeping the middle seat free.

“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely. Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is low,” said de Juniac.

“And we will take measures — such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew — to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”

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