Airlines Say They’re Going To Start Enforcing Mask Wearing. That’s Not What They’re Telling Crew.

Airlines For America, the major lobbying group whose members include the six largest U.S. airlines, announced today that face mask aren’t just required on board by their members but this time they mean it.

All significant U.S. airlines except for Allegiant require passengers to wear masks while on board. However airlines have been telling flight attendants not to enforce the rule>

  • Young children and people with medical justifications aren’t required to wear masks.
  • The rules are potentially contentious, and airlines don’t want confrontations that may lead to diversions.

That’s led to passengers wearing underwear as masks, or putting on eye masks and calling it good. Mask compliance varies flight by flight, with broad social media reports of people being unwilling to wear them – and of crew not even announcing the rule.

Airlines For America, though, says this is about to change,

Today, Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization representing the leading U.S. airlines, announced that its member carriers will be vigorously enforcing face covering policies, putting rigor around rules requiring passengers and customer-facing employees to wear facial coverings over their nose and mouth.

Specifically there will be “Consequences for Noncompliance” which will vary by airline “up to and including suspension of flying privileges on that airline.” The lobby shop’s head said “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.”

So how real is this claim? Here’s the instruction that was given to American Airlines flight attendants today:

What if a Passenger Refuses to Wear a Face-Covering?

Our role is to advise customers of the face-covering policy. If you notice someone not covered by one of the exceptions, not wearing a face covering, use your best judgment to address the situation discreetly. If a passenger advises you that they are unable to wear a mask because of a medical condition, disability, religious grounds, etc., no further action is needed. If the passenger chooses not to comply for other reasons, please encourage them to comply. Likewise, if a customer is frustrated by another customer’s lack of face covering, try to de-escalate the situation. …

If a Passenger Is Upset by Another Not Wearing a Face Covering, How Should I Handle the Situation?

We must respect our passengers who are unable to wear face coverings, while also encouraging the use of face coverings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Please use de-escalation techniques, such as reseating a passenger who is upset, to keep the environment respectful.

There seems to be an inconsistency between the claims of airline lobbyists that carriers are getting medieval on passengers refusing to wear masks, and on the ground instruction to cabin crew about the same thing.

The lobby group also walked through various other things airlines are doing to mitigate virus spread, but since they represent nearly all U.S. airlines they speak about it in very general terms. HEPA filters don’t apply to all aircraft, disinfectant spraying use varies as well.

The group has called for “the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to begin conducting temperature screenings” also this is likely illegal.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Vigorous” is meaningless. It seems that FAs are enforcing a rule, but there are many exceptions and it’s all about de-escalating, which is a good thing IMO.

    For public health, I would still prefer that everyone except young children who does not wear a mask (for any reason) is simply denied boarding. This is the policy on most public transit in the US.

  2. “We must respect our passengers who are unable to wear face coverings…”

    There’s the kicker. I’m unable to wear one, I have a condition known as “normalbrainpoweritis

  3. It’s so fascinating in that, “what is illegal,” in this country has clearly been a failure in regards to Covid (and many other things). The EU, as an example, does not have to be hand cuffed to an antiquated constitution that gun lovers want so hard to defend to its roots. Nor places like Singapore or Japan. And look at the results regarding Covid. Do they seem as a result so miserable and desperate for freedom?

    Yet, here, we are chained to it. This is not about Trump or Obama or politics in general. It’s about common sense, the virus could care less about personal freedoms. I, for one, am not willing to die because gun owners and freedom defenders decided for me that it’s the best for our country. Screw it…you go ahead and die for that level of freedom…in the meantime track my phone and make me wear a mask if that’s proven to be helpful.

    Truly, we have become a country of a bunch of whining entitled idiots.

  4. @James N – surprised you can even make it on a plane since I assumed you were still living in your parents’ basement and watching Plandemic on a loop

  5. 1. FA politely asks passenger to wear mask. If not:

    2. Purser asks same, and hands passenger DOT notice, If not, Purser fills out DOT form which airline sends to DOT.

    3. Passenger can provide medical or other evidence supporting non-compliance. If not:

    First offense- $50 fine.
    Second offense-$250 fine.
    Third and subsequent offense-$500 and no air travel for 6 months.

  6. It’s a catch 22 for airlines. They want people to fly and not piss off the modest number of people who do. They don’t want melee’s breaking out on the planes, so as a result people who don’t want to comply get their way. But I for one am not eager to fly if it’s not enforced. The frequency of people who have medical conditions preventing them from wearing a mask is about equal to those “requiring” emotional support animals, which is to say, very few. I will know the airlines are serious when they mandate masks and then refuse to sell tickets on subsequent flights to people who get on board and then won’t wear one. If you have a medical condition and can’t wear a mask, I feel for you, but until the pandemic is over don’t fly and put 100 other people at risk. Either masks reduce risk or they don’t.

  7. I will not comply. Haven’t had any issue. Up in the air again tomorrow and will see how it goes. They will have to divert before I mask.

  8. @Johhny agreed. There are far more people who will avoid flying because of the anti-maskers than there are of people who will refuse to fly because they have to wear a mask. Maybe they should put all the anti-maskers in the back of the plane together and keep them separated out from everyone else the whole flight.

  9. What a country of self-entitled whiny idiots. No wonder they’ve become the world’s laughingstock.

  10. All Dump voters, conspiracy nitwits, and the anti fact and anti science crowd need to be banned entry into any public and private spaces where they may be literally threatening the lives of otherwise sane individuals who have a healthy fear of literally drowning in their own blood. Put on a mask or be banned. Enough is enough. Can we please have an adult leader to control these extremely dangerous ignoramuses?

  11. how airlines handle things in the sky is one thing, and de-escalating and moving passengers etc may be the sensible steps there; but I think what the airlines are saying is wearing a mask is required. If you don’t wear one, they are not letting you on the plane.

    If you somehow get onboard and then remove your mask they will manage you and the situation until they get to the destination, but you may find yourself in difficulty boarding a subsequent flight for failing to wear a mask previously and causing an in air disruption.

    The airlines seem to be unified on this so just causing an in air problem and then flying with a different carrier may not work for non mask wearers. You might be listed on the “do not fly” list for non mask compliers. Airlines are more than able to do this as part of their conditions of carriage.

    If you want to wear underwear on your head or an eyemask etc those photos will follow you from then on; with your passport images, through tsa databases, and customs and airport security image files and perhaps even to overseas security and airport authorities . They all know who you are. good luck getting off that list and and your maskless picture out of that data base after your maskless on plane demonstration.

  12. The airline boards should give management the legal budget to solve this so that they can pick the fights so desperately needed.

    FA: Wear the mask
    Pax: I can’t because X.
    FA: Lovely. You’re banned from the airline.
    Pax: But mah rights!
    FA: Cool. You can take those up with a judge, the courthouse is at 123 Nobodycares Ave, but until you’ve got a legal order saying otherwise, you’re banned.

    Too often companies are unwilling to pick fights with their vendors, clients and/or unions, and the result is that insane procedures and exemptions become normalized. As long as CDC and Dr. Fauci are begging for people to wear masks and practice social distancing, the airlines should take the view that exceptions will be allowed when a judge orders them and not a minute sooner. If a pax wants to appear in front of a judge to argue that the underwear on their face was appropriate, airlines should show up and enjoy the fireworks.

  13. There are virtually no medical conditions that would preclude wearing a mask, particularly a light surgical one, like your doctor usually wears. People like James N just have a case of Moronitus…

    By the way, it’s not “illegal” to enforce mask rules, any more than it is “illegal” to require me to wear clothes when I fly. I gotta agree with Stuart and Jake- selfish Covidiots out there are causing unnecessary deaths and making it so the rest of us cannot fly safely. This is why we can’t have nice things…

  14. Eating and drinking on a flight necessitates removing the mask. So one solution would be to bring food and drink on board and after takeoff, take your sweet time eating and drinking. Just a little sip at a time. Just a little nibble at a time.

  15. I’m all for airlines adopting a policy of 1 warning and then a ban from flying for a year. You want to be stubborn, ok. You lose the privilege of flying for a little while because you are incapable of being a respectful, responsible adult.

    This is no different than banning smoking on a plane. Your behavior affects everyone else.

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