The Mask Revolution Could Be As Significant As Banning Smoking

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David Banmiller, former CEO of Pan Am, Sun Country, and Aloha Airlines, has over fifty years of crisis management experience in the airline industry. Simple Flying was fortunate enough to have an in-depth conversation with Mr Banmiller, whose aptly named book “Turbulence” was released in March this year. Among other things, we discussed how the mandating of masks could be as significant as the ban on lighting up in-flight.

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The mandating of the wearing of masks could be as significant as prohibiting smoking on board. Photo: Getty Images

In this part of the interview, we talked about why governmental legislation on the wearing of face masks is on a level of significance with that of banning in-flight smoking, how safety is already in the airline DNA, and how a global framework for measures are imperative to rebuilding passenger trust in air travel.

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The importance of face mask legislation

The topic of face masks has been an evolving and sometimes controversial one over the past couple of months. Mr Banmiller believes that individuals who fail to comply with airline guidelines may end up on ‘No Fly’ lists. However, there is also a need for strong legislation in order to protect crew members from distressing situations.

“I cannot wait to see the continuing saga of the masks on the airplanes,” Mr Banmiller said. “It looks like the airlines are pretty much going to mandate the use of masks. However, a little bit troubling is that the FAA is not jumping in to also take that decision.

“They are saying that it is not within their purview, but it was in their purview to stop smoking on airplanes. But they do not want to touch this, so, unfortunately, what you are going to see is a lot of tension on airplanes, and it is the flight attendants that are going to take the brunt of it.” 

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And just as with smoking, Mr Banmiller is favorable to treating the non-compliance of wearing a mask on board as a federal offense.

“Like if you smoke in the lavatory, you will be met on arrival and fined with up to $3,000. I think the same thing should happen.”

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Mr Banmiller believes there is a need for strong legislation on face masks to protect crew members from tension on board. Photo: Getty Images

11 out of 10 to rebuild confidence

When asked how important he feels that overt health safety measures such as face mask policies and temperature screenings are in rebuilding customer confidence in air travel, he says,

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“On a scale of one to ten, they are 11. Passengers are already stressed when walking into a terminal, and now we are doubling and tripling that. (…) They need to feel comfortable that the airline has done everything in its power. In terms of safety, you have the HEPA filters that circulate air 20 to 30 times per minute, from top to bottom, keeping the air quality at levels equivalent to an operating theatre. And airplanes have always been clean, but not like its happening now.”

“So if you can combine that with other measures such as temperature checks, all these things add up to a sense of security. But if you have someone on an airplane without a mask, then all that you have done before will go to waste.”

Global coordination required

The need for a global consensus on measures is also of utmost importance, Mr Banmiller said, likening the process to when security measures were applied uniformly all over the world following the frequent hijackings of the early 1970s.

“Without consistent protocols worldwide, it will fall short. I think we can get there from a collaboration between the FAA, the Brussels authorities, and IATA, where we end up with a set of principles that everybody agrees on.”

Health security measures must be applied universally
Measures must be universally applied, much like security standards were set following hijackings in the 1970s. Photo: Getty Images

Who will pay for temperature screenings?

On the failure to reach an agreement between US airlines and the White House on who is going to pay for obligatory temperature screenings, Mr Banmiller believes that it will, in the end, come back to the airlines. As they are already paying for security, most likely, they will push for it to become part of the regular safety screening process. And those who register higher temperatures simply will not be allowed to fly.

In the next part of the interview, we talk about how the landscape of European commercial aviation will shift before the end of the year, what airline CEOs need to focus on during a crisis, and why bankruptcy is not necessarily a bad thing.

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