One of the major things that has been keeping me from getting on an airplane is the fact that many travelers are not wearing their face masks as they’re supposed to. Sadly, not wearing a face mask has become a political statement (thanks to the President of the USA for not leading by example).
Research has shown that wearing a face mask greatly reduces the risk of COVID-19 infection. In fact, writes Reuters, “mask-wearing is even more important for preventing the virus’ spread and the sometimes deadly COVID-19 illness it causes than social distancing and stay-at-home orders, researchers said, in the study published in PNAS: The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.”
Well, there’s been a big change. In a statement yesterday by Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade organization representing Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines, each of these airlines announced that it will be implementing the following policy updates regarding face coverings:
- Preflight Communications: Each airline will clearly articulate its individual face covering policy in communications with customers, which may require passengers to acknowledge the specific rules during the check-in process.
- Onboard Announcements: Onboard the aircraft, crew members will announce specific details regarding the carrier’s face covering policy including the consequences passengers could face for violating the policy.
- Consequences for Noncompliance: Each carrier will determine the appropriate consequences for passengers who are found to be in noncompliance of the airline’s face covering policy up to and including suspension of flying privileges on that airline.
Yes, a “suspension of flying privileges” is now on the table if you don’t follow airline face mask rules.
United Airlines sent out a separate press release yesterday stating that “it will strengthen mandatory mask policies to further mitigate against the spread of COVID-19 and help continue to keep passengers and crew safe. While the overwhelming majority of passengers are complying with United’s mandatory policy, starting on June 18, any passenger that does not comply when onboard a United flight will be placed on an internal travel restriction list. Customers on this list will lose their travel privileges on United for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review.
“United currently requires all passengers to wear a face covering onboard its flights and expects that policy to remain in place for at least the next 60 days. The only exceptions to this policy are individuals who have a medical condition or a disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering, 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.”
The press release continues: “Under this new policy, if a flight attendant notices or is informed of a customer onboard who is not wearing a face covering and that passenger does not fall within an exception, the flight attendant will proactively inform the customer that for the health and safety of everyone, face coverings are mandatory for all customers and crew on board. They will also offer to provide the customer with a mask if needed. If the customer continues to be non-compliant, flight attendants will do their best to de-escalate the situation, again inform the customer of United’s policy, and provide the passenger with an In-Flight Mask policy reminder card. If a customer continues to not comply, the flight attendant will file a report of the incident, which will initiate a formal review process. Any final decision or actions regarding a customer’s future flight benefits will not occur onboard but instead take place after the flight has reached its destination and the security team has investigated the incident.”
My take on the new potential punishments for not wearing a face mask on a flight
I’m happy to see that United and the other airlines are really going to step up their policing of the use of masks. I’ve spoken to multiple doctors about the value of masks and they’ve all told me they’d rather treat COVID-19 patients than fly on a plane. That’s because on a plane people aren’t in PPE; they’re in an enclosed space and many feel their rights are being infringed upon when they’re told they have to wear a mask. Now, if you don’t wear a mask you risk being banned from an airline. (You know there’s going to be a case soon when there’s an emergency landing because a passenger won’t comply or a fight breaks out over the rule.)
Once all passengers start wearing masks over their mouths and nose, I’ll feel much better about flying.
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