In the first such rule by a major US carrier, beginning Friday, all United Airlines flight attendants must wear a face covering or mask while on duty. While applauding the move, representatives of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) say the policy does not go far enough. It is calling on Washington to make masks obligatory for passengers as well – something we’ve seen in other countries already.
Mandatory on all flights
The wearing of masks for flight attendants has been a source of contention between the AFA and US airlines since the beginning of the corona-crisis. Initially, flight attendants were only allowed to wear masks on international flights to coronavirus hotspots. Now, United has made facial protective equipment mandatory for its cabin crew on all flights.
In an internal memo shared with CNN, the airline says that it will supply surgical facial masks for its crew. These will be available within the inflight kits, with 20 pieces for domestic flights, and 40 on international routes.
The airline said it would not specifically replenish the masks after every flight, so any remaining masks should be left for the following crew. United will restock the kits would “as needed and as supplies permit.” Flight attendants may also wear their own personal face coverings if they so wish.
More measures are needed says the AFA
As reported by Reuters, the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents United’s attendants and those of 19 other carriers, welcomed the airline’s decision but said it is not enough to fully ensure safety for crewmembers.
“Flight attendants are aviation’s first responders, required by federal regulations to help ensure the safety, health, and security of our globally-interconnected aviation system,” AFA said in a letter Thursday to the departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services
The letter calls on the authorities to mandate masks in aviation for crew, employees – and passengers and that they require access to personal protective equipment. Furthermore, it requests that all leisure travel be entirely suspended until the virus is contained.
Sarah Nelson, President of the AFA, applauded United’s efforts.
We applaud @united’s actions to reduce risk of virus spread & being first to require all flight attendants wear a mask, provided by the airline or by choice by the Flight Attendant. We are calling on DOT/HHS to require this for everyone in airports/planes. https://t.co/SUi1Ky8XCe https://t.co/ixUzFmiFRA
— Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) April 23, 2020
Obligatory masks for passengers
The move comes not a moment too soon, according to the AFA, which represents over 50,000 US flight attendants across 20 carriers. They say it is essential that rules for passengers follow suit. There is precedent for their requests not too far from home.
Their neighbor to the north, Canada, began requiring all passengers to wear non-medical masks or a face-covering during the boarding process and on flights as of Monday. US carrier Frontier Airlines has done the same, according to AFA. Furthermore, JetBlue began requiring face coverings for its inflight crewmembers as well as others across its operations last week.
However, United is as previously noted, the first of the three major airlines to do so stateside.
Globally, other airlines are also shifting towards more protection for staff still flying at this time. On Tuesday, Emirates announced that it would be banning most cabin baggage on its flights. It also requires that all ground staff and cabin crew wear mandatory PPE. Passengers are requested to wear masks from the check-in process until they disembark at their destination.
Do you think the government should make it mandatory for airlines to supply protective gear for their crew? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.