Alex Edelman / AFP via Getty Images
As of May 4, all travelers who will walk in an airplane operated by JetBlue must wear an essential accessory: a face mask. The airline announced on Monday that within a week it will be mandatory for all passengers to cover their mouths and noses while boarding to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The JetBlue crew members have already received the same mandate.
“This is the new flight tag,” said JetBlue president and chief operating officer Joanna Geraghty in a press release attached to the announcement. “On board, the cabin air is well circulated and cleaned through filters every few minutes, but it is a shared space where we must be attentive to others. “
By announcing the rule, JetBlue has become the first major US airline to require passengers to wear some kind of face covering throughout their journey – from check-in to when they get off the plane at their destination .
But it’s also far from being the only one in an industry that is regularly evolving towards a more widespread use of masks: American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have recently announced their intention to require their flight crews to wear masks starting this week, while United and Frontier released orders earlier this month. American and Delta also said they would encourage passengers to wear masks by distributing them before flights.
Beyond American borders, Canadian authorities have already demanded that all air travelers passing through Canadian airports be required to cover their noses and mouths.
The general change in the airline industry follows a significant change earlier this month in guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health officials have changed their original suggestion against wearing masks, saying that in fact even informal cloth or cloth face covers – even when worn by people believed to be in good health – can help to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing tens of thousands of crew members from 20 airlines, including United and Frontier, have advocated for greater use of face masks – not only by flight crews but also by The passengers. The union’s international president, Sara Nelson, explained why in a letter sent last week to the federal secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, and to the secretary of health and social services, Alex Azar.
“In airlines employing AFA flight attendants, at least 250 have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and flight attendants have also died from the virus,” said Nelson.
She added that the flight attendants, whom she described as “aviation first responders”, had to deal with feelings of guilt, fear and uncertainty about their position in the pandemic. And she called on regulators to push it even further, noting the difficulties in following social distancing recommendations in tight spaces in a cabin.
According to Nelson, the answer is “stop all pleasure travel until the pandemic is brought under control by health officials.”
As NPR reported on Monday, passenger demand for airlines has fallen by more than 95% since early March, and the International Air Transport Association has found that airlines around the world are expected to lose $ 314 billion this year alone.