According to an internal memo Cathay Pacific now exempts business and first class passengers from wearing masks while in their seats in lie-flat mode.
The airline told Executive Traveller, “seats in first and business class are more spacious with partitions, and passengers are exempted when lying flat for sleep.”
Cathay Pacific First Class Bed
Modern aircraft are among the safest indoor environments, as a result of downward air flow, regular outside air exchange, and HEPA air filtration. Combined with greater distance and passengers lower to the cabin floor while sleeping, Cathay Pacific is probably right that risk is minimal (though it’s not zero). And they want to offer premium passengers as close to a good sleeping experience – the reason for buying up to premium seats on long haul – to attract their business which is on a knife’s edge.
Cathay Pacific Business Class Cabin
Carriers that don’t block middle seats argue HEPA and other aircraft protections are enough with masking and blocked middle seats don’t provide enough distance to be prophylactic anyway. However here Cathay Pacific says a center divider between middle seats in business class is enough if you’re lower to the cabin floor that masking is unnecessary.
Covid-19 does spread on planes but it’s rare. Low quality masks that meet the minimum standard required probably don’t contribute much to overall safety. Sleeping without a mask on, with distance and barriers between passengers and with downward air flow, frequent air exchange, and good air filtration is probably just fine. It’s not 100% protection, but masking doesn’t make for 100% protection either.
Still, it’s awkward to allow some passengers to take their mask off inflight and not others. What about those who have already recovered from the virus or have been vaccinated? Neither of those is a guarantee against infection, re-infection or spread but it reduces the likelihood, just like greater space in the cabin and downward air flow.
Perhaps a class of service-based exemption is more tenable than a vaccination one because people who aren’t exempt won’t see those who are taking off their masks inflight.