Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian made the television rounds yesterday (here’s his interview from TODAY) to get the message out that if you’re concerned about flying during COVID-19, there’s no better airline for you than Delta.
Delta and the other major U.S. airlines know that the majority of passengers, including road warriors like myself, are very concerned about contracting or exposing others to COVID-19. Demand to fly dropped off a cliff in late March, and even though it slowly crept back it’s now plateaued. Just look at these TSA throughput numbers, which measures everyone (including airline crew and airport workers) passing through all U.S. airport security checkpoints.
One of the biggest concerns among passengers is that people won’t be wearing face masks. Sadly, there was misinformation from the beginning of the pandemic that conspiracy theorists have run with and right-wing leaders politicized. But it looks like facts and the good guys are going to win this war, as airlines this week have announced they’re cracking down in their mask policies.
Here, current as of July 23, is the face mask policy enforced or set to be enforced by each of the four biggest U.S. airlines:
Delta’s face mask policy
Delta (as usual) was the first (we wrote about it last week) to put in place a process through which to eliminate the anti-maskers trying to abuse the policy. In the words of the airline, passengers on Delta “who indicate they have an underlying condition that prevents them from wearing a mask are required to complete a ‘Clearance-To-Fly’ process before being permitted to travel, for everyone’s safety. The virtual consultation process facilitated by a Delta agent with a third-party medical professional could take up to an hour, so customers needing a rare exemption should plan to show up to the airport early. Delta is encouraging customers prevented from wearing a mask due to a health condition to reconsider travel, altogether. A ‘Clearance-To-Fly’ process is required for each trip.”
United’s face mask policy
United (and then American) as usual followed Delta’s lead, but then one-upped it by expanding its own face mask policy to include airports.
First, United said it “will strengthen its mask exemption policy by only excluding children under the age of two. If a passenger believes that there are extraordinary circumstances that warrant an exception, they should contact United or speak to a representative at the airport.” Then, yesterday (July 22), it released that “customers will be required to wear a face covering in the more than 360 airports where the airline operates around the world. This includes United customer service counters and kiosks, United Club locations, United’s gates and baggage claim areas. If customers refuse to comply, they may be refused travel and banned from flying United at least while the mask requirement is in place.” Here’s the source plus more info.
AA’s face mask policy
American Airlines’ policy is very similar to United’s: “American Airlines will require all customers over the age of 2 to wear face coverings at airports and on board, strengthening the airline’s commitment to keep customers and team members safe. This requirement will become effective on July 29, 2020. Due to safety risk of asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission by individuals without face coverings, all customers must wear a face covering from the time they enter their departure airport and not remove it until they exit their arrival airport. This updated policy expands American’s face covering requirement to include all areas of the airports at which American operates, including Admirals Club lounges, as well as on board all American flights and does not allow for exemptions for those over 2 years old.”
On the subject of enforcement, American goes on to say that like the others, “The only time face coverings may be removed at the airport or on board is when the customer is eating or drinking. Those unwilling to comply with this face covering requirement at any time during their journey with American may be barred from future travel for the duration of this face covering requirement.”
Southwest’s face mask policy
Southwest doesn’t hold back in its own statement: “If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason (even a verifiable medical condition), we regret that we are unable to transport the Customer at this time, due to safety risk of asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission by Customers without face coverings. In other words, because of public health guidance recognizing the important role of face coverings in preventing the transmission of COVID-19, Southwest will temporarily refuse to transport any passenger who is unable to wear a mask even if the Customer has a verifiable medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask.”
Multiple airlines quoted Dr. James Merlino, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer at Cleveland Clinic, in their press releases. Said Dr. Merlino: “Wearing a mask is a critical part of helping make air travel safer” and “The more people in a given space wearing masks, the fewer viral particles are making it into the space around them, decreasing exposure and risk.”
It’s common sense, or it should be, that masks will help stop the spread of the virus. If the U.S. and the world can get it under control, then travel and the economy will slowly return. Most airlines executives have expressed belief that travel will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels for at least a couple of years, and that’s after there’s a vaccine. Let’s hope and pray we make it through sooner rather than later.
I for one was flying on average every few days, but I haven’t flown since February. That’s the longest I’ve gone in my adult life by far. If I were to fly right now, it would be most likely on Delta or Southwest since they’re taking it the most seriously and blocking middle seats. Though I’m an elite frequent flier on American and I would fly on one of its LAX-to-Miami 777s if it were empty, I would need to bring plenty of wipes. While most airlines are spraying their cabins down between flights with an electrostatic spray, American says it’s only doing it “every seven days!”
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