US airlines will not enforce mask wearing on board flights under new pandemic guidelines

The American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines have all told their employees that they cannot enforce the wearing of face masks once passengers are on board a plane, according to a Reuters investigation. However, staff can refuse to allow passengers to board the plane at the departure gate if they are not wearing face masks, the three carriers said.

The news information comes as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) discusses ways in which safety can be observed aboard flights amid the coronavirus pandemic.

An American Airlines message to pilots seen by Reuters states that policy regarding face coverings becomes more lenient once passengers are past the gate and on the plane.

It reads: “The flight attendant’s role is informational, not enforcement, with respect to the face covering policy.”

The message advises pilots that someone “who is being compliant with the exception of wearing a face covering” is not to be considered a threat serious enough to constitute the diversion of a flight.

But American Airlines spokesman Joshua Freed said: “American, like other US airlines, requires customers to wear a face covering while on board, and this requirement is enforced at the gate while boarding.”

And a United Airlines spokeswoman told the agency that flight attendants had been instructed to use “de-escalation skills” during flights to address situations regarding mask-wearing, and that passengers may be reseated. Delta is reported to have a similar policy.

The airlines do offer exemptions to wearing masks on board in any case, which include young people, people with medical conditions or disabilities or when passengers are eating or drinking.

Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced its support for the wearing of face coverings for passengers and face masks for crew on board flights.

However, it said it did not support measures that would require the middle seats of seat rows to be left empty in order to maintain social distancing measures.

IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac said: “Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low. And we will take measures – such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew – to add extra layers of protection.

“We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”

The organisation has also proposed temperature screening of staff and passengers, as well as limiting movement in the cabin during flight.

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The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that viruses “do not spread easily on flights” because of how aircraft filter and circulate the air on board.

But it adds that there is a risk of catching Covid-19 on crowded flights.

IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac has said that air travel is unlikely to recover immediately from the fall in passenger demand caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The body, which represents about 290 airlines worldwide, estimates that global airline revenue will drop by around $314 billion this year, Japan Times reports.

Meanwhile, the UK government has said it plans to impose a 14-day quarantine on international arrivals into the country in order to control the Covid-19 outbreak in Britain.

Credit ratings and financial research firm Finch Ratings has said that the move will “delay recovery in air travel demand.”

It said: “New arrival requirements will discourage travellers from flying to the UK, especially for short business trips, and will adversely affect carriers such as British Airways, Ryanair, Wizz Air and EasyJet.

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