Delta Air Lines’ CEO Ed Bastian has said that passengers that remove or refuse to wear face masks on flights will not be forcibly removed by Delta staff. The CEO made a comment in a television interview on Monday following controversy last week when American Airlines forced a passenger to disembark. However, Bastian did say that a government mandate on the issue would give airlines more confidence in enforcing safety measures.
Difficulty enforcing new policies
Delta implemented a new policy on May 4th, stating that all staff and passengers must wear face masks or a shield while at airports and on planes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Despite this newly enacted policy, CEO Ed Bastian has highlighted the difficulty in actually enforcing it.
In an interview with Axios on HBO on Monday, he said, “If the government were to mandate it, I think that would help, because if the government mandated it, then you could enforce it.” Bastian continued to say that the government had “left it to the airlines to make those decisions.”
The issue with the current loose legal stance is that some airlines may choose to enforce rules differently. American Airlines recently faced some backlash after removing a man from a flight last week. The man has been banned from flying with American Airlines for the foreseeable future. However, as there is no federal law or mandate, airlines are responsible for making some difficult decisions.
Airlines for America takes action
In place of any federal requirements, the Airlines for America, which represents airlines, announced last week that it would be “vigorously enforcing” the rules for face coverings. In its statement, it named Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines as stepping up rule enforcement.
However, while the statement, which has been reflected in similar statements from the airlines themselves, has a definite meaning, it has very little weight behind it. Each airline is still responsible for deciding any consequences for non-compliance. The statement also has very little legal power.
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Backtracking on promises
Bastian’s latest remarks seem to be backtracking on the strong, united approach we’ve seen previously. Delta has previously compared wearing a mask to the importance of wearing a seatbelt during take-off and landing. This comparison has been matched by other airlines’ firm approaches. This contradicts Bastian’s comments this week.
Of course, Bastian may be trying to put pressure on the government to come up with a legal solution. By making it a federal requirement, airlines could enforce the rules without fear of court cases at a later date. Delta’s new stance suggests passengers could travel without face masks and risk spreading the virus, something the government is obviously keen to prevent.
If airlines are struggling to enforce the new health and safety policies, we could see more airlines follow Delta’s example in trying to goad the government into action. Airlines need more support from the government. Airlines are having to make up new rules as the situation changes. A legal mandate could provide clarity for both airlines and passengers.