The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on June 17 that the agency will not require passengers to wear masks on commercial aircraft and instead will leave it to individual airlines to determine their mask policies.
Administrator Stephen Dickson, a former Air Force pilot and Delta executive, explained to a Senate committee that he believes that the CDC should be responsible for putting safety precautions into place to fight the spread of the coronavirus—not the FAA.
“Our space is aviation safety, and their space is public health,” said Dickson.
Not everyone agreed with the decision. Both Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) spoke out against Dickson’s ruling, given that even airlines experience limitations when enforcing passenger policies.
“Reports have shown enforcement for noncompliance has been uneven and difficult,” said Sinema. “The FAA needs to do more to ensure the aviation system is mitigating the spread of the virus.”
“Is this, like, a philosophical thing with you folks?” added Schatz. “I just don’t get why you wouldn’t want this to be mandatory,”
Airlines are cracking down
Without help from the federal government, airlines are now forced to take measures into their own hands.
United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, Alaska, Frontier, and JetBlue have all announced strict passenger mask requirements, and United is taking it a step further by threatening to actually ban passengers who refuse to comply.
Previous to the FAA announcement, United announced that any passenger who disobeys the policy will be placed on an “internal travel restriction list,” effective on June 18.
“Customers on this list will lose their travel privileges on United for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review,” the airline said in a statement to USA Today. All United employees including flight attendants, pilots, and customer service agents will also be required to wear masks. The requirement will stay in place for “at least the next 60 days.”
United Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist added that the decision is an “unmistakable signal that we’re prepared to take serious steps, if necessary, to protect our customers and crew.”
“U.S. airlines are very serious about requiring face coverings on their flights. Carriers are stepping up enforcement of face coverings and implementing substantial consequences for those who do not comply with the rules,” Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas Calio said.
“Face coverings are one of several public health measures recommended by the CDC as an important layer of protection for passengers and customer-facing employees.”
American Airlines is prepared to follow United’s lead, suggesting in a June 15 press release that the company may also take measures to ban passengers who don’t comply. American made national news on June 17 by removing an online political influencer who refused to wear a mask on the plane he had boarded.
“American, like other U.S. airlines, already requires customers to wear a face-covering while on-board aircraft,” the statement said. “American already enforces this policy at the gate and will deny boarding to customers who don’t comply. American now may also deny future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering.”
The airline added that it was encouraged to make these changes after working in conjunction with Airlines for America on an industry-wide response.