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American, Delta, United, JetBlue, Southwest, Alaska, and Hawaiian have all agreed to stricter mask enforcement policies and may suspend flying privileges for those who don’t comply.
U.S. airlines aren’t messing around with their mandatory mask policies anymore.
Airlines for America, a trade group that represents the major U.S. airlines, on Monday announced that its members have agreed to start “vigorously enforcing” their requirements that all passengers and crew wear masks.
In early May, all the major U.S. airlines began requiring passengers to wear a face mask over their nose and mouth during their flight. The new measures were enacted after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance for wearing face masks to help slow the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19. The agency now recommends that everyone wear cloth face masks in public settings where social-distancing measures cannot be maintained.
Consequently, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Southwest Airlines are all implementing an updated mask policy that allows the airlines to suspend flying privileges for passengers who don’t comply.
Airlines for America also stated that the airlines should communicate their new policy to customers prior to check-in, and that passengers will have to acknowledge that they understand the new rules during the check-in process. In-flight announcements should include details about the carrier’s face mask policy as well as the consequences passengers could face for violating the policy.
United will put violators on a travel restriction list
Thus far, United is the only carrier that has followed up with a statement detailing its stricter approach. In the wake of the Airlines for America announcement, United Airlines on Monday said that starting on June 18, passengers who do not comply with its mandatory mask policy when onboard a United flight will be placed on an internal travel restriction list and will lose their travel privileges “for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review,” the airline stated.
The only exceptions to United’s policy are passengers with a medical condition or a disability that prevents them from wearing a face mask, those who cannot put on or remove a face covering themselves, and small children. Customers are expected to wear a mask for the duration of the flight, except when eating or drinking.
United expects this updated policy to remain in place for at least the next 60 days.
“Every reputable heath institution says wearing a mask is one of the most effective things people can do to protect others from contracting COVID-19, especially in places like an aircraft where social distancing is a challenge,” United’s chief customer officer Toby Enqvist said in a statement.
United said it will provide masks to those who do not have one. If a customer is noncompliant, a flight attendant will file an incident report that will initiate a formal review process. Any final decision or actions regarding a customer’s future flight benefits will take place after the flight has reached its destination and the incident has been investigated.
Airlines’ enhanced safety measures
Masks are not meant to replace social distancing and other public health measures that have been put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19—they are meant to be an added line of defense, according to the CDC. Thus, airlines have been instituting other safety measures throughout the air travel process as well.
In addition to enhanced sanitation and cleaning measures the airlines have implemented, some have ensured that they will space out passengers onboard, too.
On April 13, Delta began blocking the middle seats in its main cabins and in Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select seats on all flights, a policy it has in place through June 30. Customers who prefer to be seated directly next to travel companions and family members can contact the reservations department. The airline said it is also reducing the number of customers on each flight but didn’t provide specifics. Passengers are being boarded 10 at a time to give them added space as they board.
As of the end of April, to promote social distancing onboard, United customers were no longer able to select seats next to each other or the middle seats on aircraft. The airline is also alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs. Similar to Delta, United is boarding fewer customers at a time as well.
Other carriers, including Southwest and JetBlue, have said they will space passengers out on flights.
Some airlines have installed plexiglass shields over the check-in counters to provide additional protection, and some have marked the floors to ensure appropriate distance is maintained when customers are in waiting areas.