A global airline is no longer requiring passengers to wear face masks on some flights

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SAS Scandinavian Airlines' Airbus A350-900 XWB - SAS Scandinavian Airlines Airbus A350-900 XWB Tour
A SAS Scandinavian Airlines' Airbus A350-900 XWB. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • Scandinavian Airlines will no longer require face masks on flights within Scandinavia.

  • Flights outside of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway will still have mask requirements.

  • Sweden, where Scandinavian Airlines has its headquarters, has taken a no-lockdown pandemic approach.

Scandinavian Airlines, also known as SAS, will no longer require passengers to wear face masks on flights within the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

"Due to the opening of societies and general recommendations from authorities in Scandinavia, SAS is from 18 October 2021, removing the requirement for mandatory use of face masks on flights within Scandinavia," the airline said on its website.

The flag carrier of the three Nordic nations is the largest global carrier to scrap the pandemic-era health safety policy for all passengers. Airlines around the world adopted the measure in the early months of the pandemic to stop the onboard spread of COVID-19.

Qatar Airways experimented with allowing business class passengers to only wear face masks at their discretion, as Insider reported in July 2020, but now requires all passengers to wear a face mask.

Travelers on SAS flights not within Scandinavia, however, will still have to wear masks as the airline says it will follow European Union Aviation Safety Agency recommendations for face masks on non-intra-Scandinavian flights.

"However, SAS will be following recommendations from EASA regarding mandatory use of face masks on other SAS flights, operating outside Denmark, Norway, and Sweden," the airline also said.

Flights to non-European destinations including the US will still also keep existing face mask requirements. "SAS maintains the requirement to use face masks onboard flights to other European and intercontinental destinations until further notice," the airline said.

Scandinavian Airlines' home country of Sweden has faced the largest number of COVID-19 cases out of any other Nordic country. A total of 1,160,453 cases have been reported in Sweden, according to the World Health Organization, which is more than the cumulative cases of Denmark and Norway combined.

Sweden's no-lockdown approach to COVID-19 was widely criticized but the country's chief epidemiologist has hailed the approach as a success with lower excess mortality rates than some other European countries that chose lockdowns, as Insider's Dr. Marianne Guenot reported.

Reported COVID-19 cases and deaths in Sweden have been on the decline following a recent spike that peaked in early September, according to World Health Organization data. Norway experienced a similar spike in late August that is similarly receding.

Denmark, however, has seen an increase in reported COVID-19 cases since late September that has not drastically subsided. Daily cases on October 11, the most recent data point the World Health Organization has listed, shows 2,484 cases but says the data for that date might be incomplete.

In terms of vaccinations, Reuters data shows that Sweden has administered 14,103,587 doses, or enough to vaccinate 68.6% of its population, while Norway has administered 7,890,409 doses, or enough to vaccinate 73.8% of its population. Denmark leads the pack with 8,811,494 doses administered, or enough to have 75.7% of its population vaccinated.

Scandinavian Airlines' policy also applies to unvaccinated flyers.

In the US, air travelers are set to be wearing face masks into 2022. The Transportation Security Administration under President Joe Biden in August extended the country's face mask requirement onboard airplanes through January 18, 2022, after two extensions early in 2021.

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