Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines will make passengers wear face masks, establishing a new standard for the industry as it fights to win back customers during a pandemic.
The larger carriers are following JetBlue Airways, which announced April 27 that travelers would have to cover their nose and mouth throughout trips starting May 4. Delta and United start their mandate the same day, with American’s kicking in on May 11. Small children are exempt.
The requirement is meant to help soothe concerns that aircraft cabins foster the spread of Covid-19. The airlines cited guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in implementing the change. The coverings help prevent anyone who may be unknowingly infected with the new coronavirus from spreading it in a confined space like an airplane cabin.
“We take seriously the CDC guidelines for adding this extra layer of protection,” Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, said in a statement Thursday. “We believe this change will give customers and employees some additional comfort when traveling with us.”
Southwest Airlines remains the outlier among the largest carriers. It said it will provide masks to those who want them, but hasn’t made them mandatory.
The union representing flight attendants from 20 airlines welcomed the new rule, and urged for it to be expanded.
The Association of Flight Attendants wants the federal government to mandate “masks for crew, front line employees and all passengers,” said Sara Nelson, president of the group.
Masks will be compulsory just on board American and United flights, while Delta and JetBlue are requiring them starting in the check-in lobby, gate areas, jet bridges as well as during flights. Frontier Airlines Inc., a discounter, also said it would require passengers to wear masks.
American will begin making masks and hand sanitizing wipes or gel available to some passengers on Friday, expanding to all flights as it’s able, the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier said. Masks made at home from cloth or other household items can be used, it said.
United, Delta and American already require some employees to wear face masks, or will do so soon.