Major airlines, including legacy United and portfolio-friendly Frontier, both members of the Flight Attendant Association (AFA), already require flight attendants to wear protective masks or blankets when are in service. American and Delta recently announced similar mandates. But none extends to airline customers. Only JetBlue, as of Monday, requires crew members and customers to wear a face covering during the trip. It is the first airline in the United States to announce such a policy, which will take effect on May 4 – and could help usher in a new era of flight tag.
Canada also requires all passengers to wear a face cover, and Malaysia Airlines has a policy that passengers bring and wear their own face masks from check-in to baggage claim.
It would be prudent – and easy – for more airlines in the United States to require their passengers to wear face masks, according to doctor and certified airline pilot Peter Tippett, also CEO of CareMesh, a national directory that allows health care providers to communicate with each other.
“Passengers wearing masks would make life safer for everyone. If you, as an airline, could only do one thing – between the passengers wearing the masks and the flight attendants wearing the masks – the passengers wearing the masks would benefit in terms of risk reduction for everyone, ” said Dr. Tippett. told CBS MoneyWatch.
The coronavirus is most often transmitted by respiratory droplets expelled when an infected person speaks, coughs or sneezes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of the virus, especially when social distancing is not possible, as is the case in well-wrapped aircraft cabins. Passengers on nearby planes are at risk of infecting each other, although planes are generally equipped with hospital-grade air filters that recirculate air every two to four minutes.
According to Tippett, requiring passengers to wear masks on flights would be the most effective policy that airlines could apply now to keep customers and crew safe.
Airplanes are relatively dry atmospheres, which means that the coronavirus will not live long on its surfaces. But passengers and crew are at risk of infecting each other – and face masks help prevent this.
“First, masks keep you from touching your nose or mouth, and these are the number one and two ways to get coronavirus,” said Tippett.
“A mask also stops water particles – even a rin-tin-tin mask stops those that are much more likely to infect you than dry virus particles,” he added.
If that’s obvious, why don’t airlines impose masks on board, or better yet, put them on for passengers, like they do with headphones and motion sickness bags? (JetBlue has not indicated that it will provide face masks, rather sharing CDC guidelines on appropriate masks with customers.)
On the one hand, it could increase the number of altercations between crew members and passengers, said Tippett.
“What would you do if someone got on and took off their mask? Passengers nearby could panic and you could imagine bad things happening, ”said Tippett.
“Flight attendants have enough fights to worry about files and things, I can imagine that this is part of the problem with the imposition of a rule,” he added.
But mask requirements could also alleviate the worries of suspicious travelers about flights and help boost the earnings of struggling airlines as home stay orders and restrictions on business travel begin to ease.
Major US airlines report that even after fewer departures, the remaining flights are, on average, only 15% full. According to KBS Van Cleave, CBS News correspondent, providing seats is essential to the bottom line of airlines: they generally don’t make money unless they are more than 66% full. Airlines are using smaller planes on almost all routes and have reduced capacity by up to 90% to cope with an estimated 97% drop in customer demand for flights, he noted.
A former flight attendant tweeted that she “would not work on a plane as an employee unless every passenger on the plane did so with a mask.”
“A plane where social distancing is almost impossible should require everyone on the plane to wear a mask, especially the crew,” said another reluctant traveler.