Effective Monday, July 27, Southwest Airlines will follow both United Airlines and American Airlines in requiring passengers to wear face masks not just on board their flights, but also throughout their time at the airport, “while checking in, boarding, in flight, deplaning, retrieving baggage, in the gate area, and any other time they may engage with a Southwest Employee or another Customer.”
According to an internal memo the airline is onto the tricks customers are using to pretend to comply with the mask requirement, defining that what has to be placed over “an individual’s nose and mouth” is “a well-secured cloth or mask.” And taking off a mask “to eat, drink, or take medicine” should be “brief, and Customers should put their face covering back on as soon as possible.” (They’re looking at you, Ted Cruz.)
This policy now applies to all children two years old and older. Children younger than that are advised against wearing masks for safety reasons, child who are two or three may be challenging to get to keep their masks on where it’s difficult to explain to them why they’re wearing the mask or even what it is. This, too, follows a similar change at both United and American.
Of course “[c]ustomers should remove face coverings if a decompression event occurs and they are asked to use an oxygen mask.” That’s something airlines actually need to remind customers about during the safety briefing.
What’s most striking about their policy is that anyone with a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask is not exempt but instead may not fly. According to the internal document,
Due to the Safety risk posed by someone not wearing a mask, we are not able to allow any other exemptions at this time, including those for disabilities or medical conditions. If a Customer cannot travel safely while wearing a mask, the Customer will be refused transportation.
In other words, effective July 27, 2020, if a Customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason (even a verifiable disability or medical condition), we regret that we will be unable to transport him/her at this time, due to the safety risk of COVID-19 transmission by Customers without face coverings. This includes any Customer who is unable to remove the mask without assistance. (In a future version of this policy, Southwest will review and consider the possibility of transporting a Customer who is willing to wear the mask but who is unable to remove the mask without assistance, so long as he/she is accompanied by a “safety assistant,” as described in the DOT regulation governing safety assistants — 14 CFR 382.29.)
Now, the airline doesn’t want to actually divert flights over this. If a customer boards with a mask but won’t wear it once the plane has been cleared for departure, “[c]rew should follow our existing policies for managing Customer misconduct. The Customer should be notified they will be met by Station Leadership when the flight arrives at its destination.”
I’ve uploaded Southwest’s full internal memo here (.pdf).
The new American Airlines policy is actually similar to Southwest’s ‘no exceptions to mask wearing’, they just didn’t say it in their news release which is odd, though the release seemed poorly drafted generally.