Major U.S. Carriers Commit To Enforcing Mask Use In Flight

american airlines passengers
Credit: American Airlines / Twitter

WASHINGTON—Nearly all the major U.S. carriers will crack down on lapses in mask-wearing in flight, putting rigor on previously toothless policies that drew widespread criticism for lack of enforcement. 

The stepped-up rules will apply to member carriers of industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A), including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.

A4A announced on June 15 that each carrier “will determine the appropriate consequences” for passengers found to be in violation of the face covering policy, “up to and including suspension of flying privileges on that airline.” The new rule marks a reversal from policies in place since early May, in which airlines adopted a largely hands-off approach to enforcement aimed at de-escalating conflict with non-compliant passengers whenever possible.

As part of the strengthened commitment, A4A said airlines will “clearly articulate” their mask policy to passengers prior to travel, which may involve requiring customers to acknowledge the rules during check-in. Once onboard the aircraft, passengers will be further notified by crewmembers of the specific rules and the consequences for violating them.

A4A said the measures will remain in place “throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis.”

“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,” A4A president and CEO Nicholas Calio said in a statement.

American Airlines confirmed it will begin denying future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering in the cabin, effective June 16.

“We believe the face covering requirement is important, so customers will notice more reminders of our policy when they travel with us, both at the airport and in flight,” the company said. 

United Airlines will place passengers deemed non-compliant with the mask policy on an internal travel restriction list, which will bar them from traveling with the Chicago-based carrier “for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review.” The updated policy goes into effect June 18, and will remain in place for 60 days, unless extended. 

“Today’s announcement is an unmistakable signal that we’re prepared to take serious steps, if necessary, to protect our customers and crew,” United chief customer officer Toby Enqvist said.

A Delta spokesperson confirmed the company intends to implement the increased communication and consequences outlined by A4A. “As with many safety actions, failure to comply with an agent or crew member instructions could result in denied boarding or revocation of future flight privileges,” the spokesperson said. 

A Southwest spokesman said the airline’s policy is to deny boarding to any customer not wearing a face covering. Once someone boards an aircraft, “they are required to comply with crew instructions and our crew are professionally trained to address a variety of situations with security protocols we won’t discuss publicly,” the spokesman said.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.