Starting May 11 American Airlines will require all passengers wear “a face covering (or mask) while on board the aircraft.” This follows a move first made by JetBlue and copied by Frontier.
To show how quickly things are changing – the modern day equivalent of one being as a thousand years and a thousand years one day – it was only Monday that American announced flight attendants would be required to wear masks and that starting May 1 they’d begin to roll out complimentary masks for customers as an option, subject to supply chain and operational constraints.
Indeed it was just six weeks ago that American still disciplined flight attendants who wore masks.
On the one hand, the thinking went, seeing masks projected an image that there’s something to be protected from on the plane. Airlines have been messaging their cleaning regimens and air filtration. Only Delta says air travel is unsafe.
However it’s become clear that customers are more comfortable when other passengers are wearing masks. Regardless of the inevitable debate in the comments over the efficacy of non-respirator masks, it’s clear that when customers know this is required of everyone else on board they’ll be more comfortable traveling. And if they saw it required on other airlines, but they didn’t have confidence everyone around them would wear masks on American, they might consider booking a different airline.
Face masks are going to have staying power even after the immediate risk from the new coronavirus subsides. They became commonplace flying in Asia after SARS. What will be interesting to see is at what point the requirement ultimately lifts and wearing a mask becomes merely voluntary again.