• Each airline will develop its own policies and consequences for refusing to wear a face mask in flight
  • Young children and those with a disability or medical reason for not wearing a mask are exempt
  • The industry is expected to lose billions this year with demand for tickets down as much as 90%

Major U.S. airlines say they could ban travelers who refuse to wear face masks on board, calling the coverings essential for protecting the safety of employees and fellow passengers. Airlines for America said it will be up to the individual carriers to decide the penalty for noncompliance.

The airline industry has been among the hardest hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, expected to lose billions this year with ticket sales off as much as 90%. Experts agree recovery will not be possible until passengers feel safe from infection aboard planes. Mitigation measures are expected to remain in place for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Financially, 2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association.

A4A represents Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines.

“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,” A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a press release. “Face coverings are one of several public health measures recommended by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] as an important layer of protection for passengers and customer-facing employees.”

A4A said airlines will clearly articulate and communicate their face mask policies, make onboard announcements regarding violations of the policy and determine the appropriate consequences for those violations, including suspension of flying privileges.

American, the largest U.S. airline, announced its stepped-up policy Monday.

“We believe the face covering requirement is important, so customers will notice more reminders of our policy as they travel with us, both at the airport and in flight,” American said.

"We have been requiring our customers to wear masks onboard United aircraft since May 4 and we have been pleased that the overwhelming majority of passengers readily comply with our policy," United Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist said in announcing the airline’s stepped up policy.

Passengers who board without face masks will be offered one. A final decision on whether a passenger will be barred from futures flight as a result of a refusal to comply will be made by a security team after a plane has arrived at its destination.

Young children and those with a disability or medical reason for not wearing a mask are exempt from the policy. Masks also may removed for eating and drinking.

U.S. airlines have implemented intensive cleaning protocols and are sanitizing counters, gate areas and kiosks. Back-to-front boarding also has been implemented and food services adjusted.

“All passengers are required to wear a face covering throughout the travel journey on the leading U.S. airlines, as clearly stated on each airline’s website. Additionally, travelers are urged to stay home when ill, frequently wash their hands and to wear a face covering throughout their air travel journey, consistent with CDC guidance,” A4A said.