Before President Biden’s executive order requiring masks on planes – which were already required – airlines including American, United and Southwest all had no exceptions. As I predicted, the government now permits exceptions for those with a medical excuse.
According to an internal American Airlines memo reviewed by View From The Wing,
The Federal Government issued a Security Directive requiring airlines to make exemptions for individuals with qualified disabilities that prevent them from safely wearing a mask, as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
And anyone claiming a mask exception on American now also gets the seat next to them empty and priority boarding, too. But they have to sit in the last row of their cabin, whether coach or business/first class. Here’s how the process works.
Once cleared for an exemption, American Airlines:
- Assigns the passenger to the last row of the cabin, with the seat next to them empty (If the flight is completely full, agents should “make all efforts to accommodate the exempt customer on a flight with more space.”)
- Has them pre-board
- Briefs the flight crew on the passenger’s mask exemption
American recognizes that other passengers may not want to sit next to someone not wearing a mask. But seat blocking is an odd move for an airline that has claimed blocking seats doesn’t offer meaningful social distancing so didn’t provide it to customers the way that Southwest and Alaska did, and Delta still does.
This is going to create problems for flight attendants, too, because the back row of coach is where cabin crew sit (when seats are available). Maskless passengers will sit in those seats and leave other seats empty instead – seats flight attendants aren’t authorized to use. And currently flight attendants do a lot of sitting because there isn’t much service to offer.