American, United & Delta Tighten Up Face Mask Policies

American, United, and Delta have all tightened their mask policies in recent days, closing exceptions and clamping down on non-compliance. The moves come as airlines see revenues level off and load factors remain low, spurring ideas to restore consumer confidence. Airlines have now made the policy clear: if you don’t have a mask, you aren’t flying with us.

American A321
American’s mask policy is the strictest, with no exemptions at all, even for those with medical conditions. Photo: Airbus

Strict rules

In the past few days, airlines have stepped up their efforts, adding new mask requirements and promising to punish those who don’t follow them. Masks have become a politically charged topic in the US, with many refusing to wear a mask in public spaces. Until now, airlines were willing to tolerate such behavior to an extent, but that seems to have changed.

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United Airlines Mask
Masks have become a politically charged issue in the US, with many refusing to wear one. Photo: United

United has announced that it requires that masks be worn at the airport, in addition to onboard the flight. Those who do not comply could be given a lifetime ban from flying with the carrier. Delta has similar rules in place, requiring masks at all contact points (such as check-in, lounges, etc). The airline has also banned 100 people from flying due to violations of the mask policy.

The medical exception

Until now, all airlines have made exceptions for passengers who cite medical conditions for not wearing a mask. However, it seems that this exception is being abused, with many claiming the same without any evidence. Airlines have now started to place checks and limitations on this exception, to ensure people aren’t using it as a loophole.

However, American has gone a step further and removed all exceptions. This means everyone has to wear a mask. Period. The reason for this has been that the risk of asymptomatic carriers of the virus poses a threat to the safety of everyone onboard, which means no exceptions can be made.

American Airlines, Facemasks, Coronavirus
American has cited the threat of asymptomatic patients as the reason to close all mask exceptions. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

While many will decry American’s new policy, it might be the only choice there is. Masks have proved to cut down transmission of the virus significantly, which makes them extremely important in confined spaces like a plane. Southwest, too, has removed the medical expectation and requires all to wear a mask.

While there might be medical considerations preventing some from wearing masks, the only solution that comes to mind would that these passengers take COVID-19 tests to ensure they are not carriers of the virus.

Doubling down

While mask policies have been in effect since May, it is only now that airlines are fully enforcing these policies and actually kicking people out for not following them. This comes as airlines are seeing a stall in new bookings and load factors remaining low.

Southwest 737
Airlines are seeing a stall in bookings and revenue due to the recent surge in cases. Photo: Getty Images

The current stall is due to a recent surge in cases in some states as well as a general fear of travel. Many leisure travelers are hesitant to jump on planes due to the risk of COVID-19, preferring to wait instead. Airlines are now pushing their mask and social distance policy in the hopes that traveler confidence rises and more people start flying again.

Are you willing to travel during the current pandemic? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments