Major U.S. airlines have imposed newly strict policies about face masks this week, requiring almost all passengers to wear face coverings or risk a ban on future flights, according to an announcement from the airline industry trade group Airlines For America. Airlines already required the use of face masks, but some people have not been following the rules once they get on a flight, leading some customers and flight attendants to feel uncomfortable.
The strict new measures are being imposed by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines, which have all come together to ensure that passengers treat the pandemic seriously by using face coverings that help slow the spread of covid-19.
“U.S. airlines are very serious about requiring face coverings on their flights. Carriers are stepping up enforcement of face coverings and implementing substantial consequences for those who do not comply with the rules,” Airlines For America’s president and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a statement published online this week. “Face coverings are one of several public health measures recommended by the CDC as an important layer of protection for passengers and customer-facing employees.”
The policy doesn’t apply when passengers are eating and drinking, though most airlines have scaled back their food accommodations since the pandemic began in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Many airlines have halted alcohol service altogether, as Gizmodo reported on Tuesday.
American Airlines told Gizmodo over email that passengers could face a ban on future flights if they fail to comply with the requirements. The airline already doesn’t allow people without masks to board, though there are some exceptions for children and people with disabilities that make wearing a mask difficult.
“American, like other U.S. airlines, already requires customers to wear a face covering while on board aircraft. American already enforces this policy at the gate and will deny boarding to customers who don’t comply,” the company said in a statement released Monday night. “American now may also deny future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering. American made this change after working in conjunction with Airlines for America on an industrywide response.”
Delta also released updated guidance for passengers on its website, laying out why the airline feels it’s important for everyone to wear masks during the pandemic.
“Those who choose not to comply with this or other safety requirements risk future flight privileges with Delta,” the company said in a statement posted online. “While we double down on our safety commitment of ensuring customers wear their masks as required, we are making sure customers are aware of and acknowledge this requirement by adding even more digital notifications, signage and announcements starting before you leave home and across your journey with us.”
The U.S., which has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world, currently has 2.1 million cases and over 116,000 deaths from covid-19. But that hasn’t stopped most areas of the country from “reopening” various businesses and allowing people to travel freely across state lines. At least 21 states are seeing a steady increase in cases and some regions of the country are getting hit particularly hard.
Arizona, as an example, recorded 2,392 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday. Florida recorded 2,783 new cases. And Texas recorded 2,622 new cases. For perspective, that’s more than many entire countries record in a single day. The UK, which has handled the pandemic very poorly, recorded 1,279 new cases yesterday. (For further comparison, Texas has almost triple the landmass and half of the population of the UK.) Germany identified 345 new cases yesterday, most tied to a cluster at a meatpacking plant, and Australia has found 61 new cases since Saturday. New Zealand, which is the envy of the world during this international health crisis, has seen just two cases in the past month and both were people traveling from the UK to attend a funeral.
There’s been a huge backlash against the wearing of masks, especially among people who support President Donald Trump. But the science is in. Masks aren’t a miracle cure, but they help slow the spread as long as everyone is wearing them. The main reason they work is that many people with covid-19 don’t know that they have it. The mask acts as a buffer that keeps droplets out of the air when people cough, speak, and breathe. And if everyone wears them, we can all protect each other.
Health officials in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan have been telling people to wear masks since January, as Gizmodo reported at the time. There were just six known deaths in China from covid-19 at that point, and it didn’t even have a name yet, but top health officials in Hong Kong knew that their experience with SARS back in 2003 was likely applicable. The long and the short of it: Masks couldn’t hurt.
And as we explored yesterday, U.S. health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci lied to Americans about how effective masks were for fear of face shields being sold out when health care workers needed them most. We’re now trying to undo that damage by getting people to wear masks, but there’s tremendous resistance. Thankfully, the airlines are taking this seriously, and people who refuse to wear masks won’t be able to travel on that airline in the future. Plenty of anti-mask advocates may whine about it, but they can all get fucked.
Don’t be an asshole. Just wear a mask. Especially if you want to ever fly on a U.S. airline in the future.