Air New Zealand to stop serving food on board so passengers will keep masks on

Air New Zealand has temporarily suspended serving food on flights, citing health and safety due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The airline said that, from January 1, domestic passengers would be given a snack on arrival at their destination as they disembark the aircraft.

"Masks are one of the key ways to limit transmission, so making this change will enable our customers' masks to be kept on throughout the flight and ensure they are as safe as possible while onboard an Air New Zealand aircraft," the airline's chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said.

Most airlines require masks to be worn on board, but allow for their removal to eat meals and snacks.

"It's anticipated that we will soon see the Omicron variant within the New Zealand community, so we are making this change now to further safeguard our customers and crew." Ms Geraghty said.

The airline said in a statement that the change in service would be "reviewed on a regular basis and updated accordingly".

New Zealand recorded its first two cases of the Omicron variant in the community this week - a British DJ and an Air New Zealand crew member. Ten cases of Omicron were identified in quarantine and there were 49 new cases in the community reported on December 31.

Masks on planes have become a controversial issue in the US, with mask requirements partially blamed for a significant rise in air rage incidents. The US Federal Aviation Administration said it has received 5553 reports of unruly behaviour in 2021, the vast majority of them related to incidents over mask regulations. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) cites several studies showing the risk of contracting COVID-19 on a plane is very low, thanks to the use of High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on board, which IATA says are more than 99.9 per cent effective at removing viruses, bacteria and fungi.

The IATA also says aircraft cabins are safer than other indoor environments (such as a restaurants and bars) because the air on board changes regularly. "The air in the aircraft cabin comprises of around 50 per cent fresh air from outside the aircraft and 50 per cent of HEPA filtered air. The air in the cabin is also renewed 20-30 times an hour or once every 2-3 minutes.

See also: Masks on planes are useless, especially when you take them off to eat

See also: 'Personal choice': Which airlines do - and don't - have vaccine mandates