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Airlines: Wear Face Coverings or Face Consequences

Airlines: Wear Face Coverings or Face Consequences
Joe Cortez

A unified front of airlines are asking flyers to be courteous and wear a face mask when traveling to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus. If passengers refuse, they could be denied boarding, or even be put on an internal “no-fly” list for a period of time. 

Domestic air carriers are sending a clear message to passengers: Wear a face mask when flying, or go on a travel ban list. Alongside air travel association Airlines for America, the major carriers are introducing stiff penalties for passengers who refuse to wear a face covering when flying.

Why Airlines are Making The Move Now

Under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, all Americans are encouraged to wear a cloth face covering “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain” to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus. Airplanes rank high on that list. By the end of April 2020, a group of legislators demanded the U.S. Department of Transportation make face masks mandatory for airplanes.

The agency didn’t move on the issue, letting airlines self-regulate the use of face masks. With scenes of crowded aircraft with mixed mask usage going viral, the industry is now forcing all passengers to wear face masks while flying.

How Airlines Are Implementing the Face Mask Rule

According to the Airlines for America memo, seven airlines will implement more stringent rules for all passengers. Along with the three legacy carriers, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines will adopt a unified rule set. Although low cost carriers Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines are not included on the list, both require passengers to wear face masks. Frontier’s policy began on May 8, 2020, while Spirit enacted theirs on May 13.

At American Airlines, the new policies are in effect immediately. United’s mandatory policy will begin on Thursday, June 18, and is expected to last for at least 60 days. The only exceptions are for individuals who have documented medical condition or disability and can’t wear a face mask, those who cannot put on or remove a face mask on their own, or small children. Flyers will be allowed to temporarily remove masks to eat and drink.

In addition to the public outreach, the airlines will communicate the new policy both in pre-flight communications and onboard announcements. In e-mails and during the check-in process, flyers will be reminded of the face mask policy, with some going so far as to force flyers to accept the policy before they receive a boarding pass.

Prior to boarding and aboard the flight, passengers will be reminded once more of the face mask policy. At United, those without a face mask aboard an aircraft will be repeatedly reminded of the policy, and may be given one if necessary. Aboard American, those without a face mask will be denied boarding.

Not Wearing a Face Mask Could End on the “No Fly” List

Under the unified policy, flyers who decide against wearing the face covering will face penalties determined by the airline. The penalties can range from denial of boarding, to a complete denial of travel privileges for a period of time.

In their statement, American notes that those without face coverings during boarding will not be able to fly that day, and “may also deny future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering.” American did not specify how long someone could be on the “no fly” list.

United’s policy is much more complex. If a passenger boards a flight without a face mask and doesn’t fall under the exception, a flight attendant will remind them of the policy. If they continue to refuse, the cabin crew will de-escalate the situation, remind them of the face mask rule and provide a reminder card. From there, the flight attendant can file a security report which will begin a formal review once the flight is complete. The United security team will then determine if they should go on the “no fly” list.

“U.S. airlines are very serious about requiring face coverings on their flights,” Airlines for America president Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement. “Carriers are stepping up enforcement of face coverings and implementing substantial consequences for those who do not comply with the rules.”

The policy follows guidance from Airlines for America’s “Fly Healthy. Fly Smart.” campaign. The information reminds flyers what airlines are doing to keep passengers healthy, while reminding passengers how they can do their part.

View Comments (17)


  1. mixmastermark

    June 16, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    SECURITY THEATER: measures which are intended to, or do, provide a feeling or illusion of improved security, while doing little or nothing to actually improve it.

    “When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn’t make any sense.”

  2. KRSW

    June 16, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    No wonder general aviation’s been so busy lately.

    Letting social media (mob rule) and politicians determine health policies is no way to run a country.

  3. jonsail

    June 16, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    As far as I am concerned US airlines currently have no credibility with what they promise to do to keep passengers safe from other passengers.

  4. rylan

    June 16, 2020 at 6:19 pm

    Good for the airlines. Now lets see how long it is before some do you know who I am refuses to wear one and has to get kicked off a flight.

    Just like businesses can require patrons to wear a mask and refuse to serve them if they don’t, airlines can do that too.

  5. amt

    June 17, 2020 at 4:27 am

    Isn’t this a cartel, we all agree to harass our passengers equally. I really don’t think these airline CEOs care about their passengers or employees at all, the only thing on their agendas are their bonuses and stock appreciation.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if this unified front extends to cutting inflight services, closing lounges, reducing contact staff to ‘protect’ customers and at be same time not being pressured by completion into leaving middle seats empty or increasing turnaround times to facilitate cleaning.

  6. cbsione1

    June 17, 2020 at 6:11 am

    Well, I will not fly United again until they agree to protect me. Perhaps if enough of us get off of a plane if there is a person without a mask United will take this more seriously. How am I protected if I am made to fly with someone who fly’s without a mask and then is punished later? I love peanuts but don’t bring them on board because it might make others ill. This is nuts. no pun intended… Just put the mask on.

  7. fotographer

    June 17, 2020 at 6:34 am

    its a new world we live in….. but on the same token…… will this ever end… we are yet to find any cure for a host of virius out there

  8. avw

    June 17, 2020 at 7:46 am

    Glad to hear that mask wearing will be enforced. I am taking my first pandemic flight this weekend. I previously read that American is filling every seat and not enforcing mask rule. I was a bit concerned about how close and how long I would be right next to an stranger who might not be wearing a mask. I hope things go well, because I want to be able to fly with some degree of confidence!

  9. azmojo

    June 17, 2020 at 8:42 am

    Do the policies state that the mask must be worn over the mouth? Or can the be on the top of my head or on my elbow for example?

    If this is not in the contract of carriage, how enforceable is it?

  10. polinka

    June 17, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    It wouldn’t surprise me if this unified front extends to cutting inflight services, closing lounges, reducing contact staff to ‘protect’ customers and at be same time not being pressured by completion into leaving middle seats empty or increasing turnaround times to facilitate cleaning.

    Absolutely. Look for that to happen indefinitely.

  11. PaulMSN

    June 17, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Odd how some people use completely unprovable negative words and phrases to decry what is simply sensible precaution. I’m very glad the airlines are taking it seriously.

  12. strickerj

    June 17, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    It remains to be seen whether or not these rules are actually enforced… After all, there are endless rules regarding the boarding process and carry-on luggage, while at the same time endless Flyertalk threads about gate lice and overhead bin conflicts.

  13. chx1975

    June 18, 2020 at 5:03 am

    I am utterly baffled at people flying to or inside the united covidlands of america. WTF. There’s a pandemic going on, 742 people died of it just yesterday, I can’t fathom how people find the courage? recklessness? to go to an airport and sit in an airplane for hours. Wow.

  14. picturegal

    June 18, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    I just got a survey from Delta asking what it would take to get me to fly again. Nowhere in the list was “Safety Precautions” to inhibit virus transmission. I left that one blank. I’m not about to get on a plane while there are people out there who are willing to say “I don’t care about your health.”

  15. jficht

    June 18, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    But the airlines still serve snacks and drinks. On a United flight from IAH to DTW, June 16th, I managed to nurse two bottles of water, some pretzels, and a sandwich that I brought for almost two hours of the 2 1/2 flight.

  16. MRM

    June 19, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    People who continue to refuse to wear masks as “their right” can continue to blame themselves as this COVID continues its way to a summer resurgence – and then another in the fall and then another in winter… But hey – it’s “your right” to keep the COIVD party going because “you’re an American!”…

  17. KenTarmac

    July 4, 2020 at 6:51 am

    To all the naysayers above who complain about “security theater”, and “US airlines currently have no credibility” If you don’t like the simple act of wearing a mask then don’t fly. It’s that simple.

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