Top U.S. Airlines Make Passengers Wear Face Masks Throughout Trips 

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. airline passengers soon will have to don a new accessory: face masks.

Delta, Alaska, United, American, and Southwest will start requiring face masks this month -- establishing a new standard as the industry fights to win back customers during the coronavirus pandemic. The biggest five carriers are following JetBlue Airways Corp., which said April 27 that travelers starting next week would have to cover their noses and mouths during trips.

The rules are meant to soothe customer concerns that aircraft cabins foster the spread of the virus, with some airlines citing guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The coverings could help prevent someone who is unknowingly infected from spreading the pathogen in a confined space, such as a plane’s interior.

“We’re in a new era of air travel and are continually updating our safety standards,” Max Tidwell, vice president of safety at Alaska Air Group Inc., said in a statement Friday. “For now, this includes wearing masks, which is another layer of protection that can reduce the spread of the virus.”

Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. will join JetBlue in mandating face coverings for passengers starting May 4. Frontier Airlines, a discounter, said it would begin requiring masks four days later. The rule kicks in May 11 at Alaska, Southwest Airlines Co. and American Airlines Group Inc. Most carriers will give masks to passengers who lack them, and small children are exempt.

The union representing flight attendants from almost 20 airlines welcomed the new policies, and urged their expansion. The Association of Flight Attendants wants the federal government to mandate “masks for crew, front-line employees and all passengers,” said union President Sara Nelson.

Airport, Too

The airlines generally require some workers to wear face masks, or will do so soon. Carriers have also adopted extensive cleaning regimens for cabins and airport areas like ticket counters and gates. Some airlines are using high-tech methods like electrostatic sprayers on board during overnight stops and some are installing plastic shields at ticket counters and gate podiums.

At American and United, masks will be compulsory only on board, while Delta, JetBlue and Alaska will require the face coverings in terminals as well.

American will begin providing masks and hand sanitizing wipes or gel to some passengers on Friday, expanding to all flights as it’s able. Coverings made at home can be used, said the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier.

Southwest on Friday joined other carriers by saying it would board travelers in smaller than usual groups and limit the number of passengers on each flight to allow them to keep apart in the cabin. Both changes start Saturday.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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