US airlines tell crew not to force passengers to wear masks
The top three United States airlines have told their flight attendants not to force passengers to comply with their new policy requiring face coverings, just encourage them to do so, according to employee policies reviewed by Reuters.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have told employees that they may deny boarding at the gate to anyone not wearing a face covering, and are providing masks to passengers who do not have them, the three carriers told Reuters.
Inside the plane, enforcement becomes more difficult.
"Once on board and off the gate, the face covering policy becomes more lenient. The flight attendant's role is informational, not enforcement, with respect to the face covering policy," American told its pilots in a message seen by Reuters explaining its policy, which went into effect on Monday.
American spokesperson 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. We also remind customers with announcements both during boarding and at departure."
"Bottom line to the pilots: a passenger on board your aircraft who is being compliant with the exception of wearing a face covering is NOT considered disruptive enough to trigger a Threat Level 1 response," referring to some kind of intentional disruption by a passenger that could cause the captain to divert the flight.
A United spokeswoman also said that any non-compliance by travellers would be addressed at the gate and flight attendants had been counselled to use their "de-escalation skills" on the aircraft and to reseat any passengers as needed. Delta said it had a similar policy.
'Encourage them to comply'
All three airlines offer certain exemptions for young children or people with medical conditions or disabilities, and when people are eating or drinking.
"If the customer chooses not to comply for other reasons, please encourage them to comply, but do not escalate further," American told flight attendants in a message on Friday that it provided to Reuters.
"Likewise, if a customer is frustrated by another customer’s lack of face covering, please use situational awareness to de-escalate the situation," it said.
US travel demand has fallen by about 94 percent amid the coronavirus pandemic, prompting carriers to slash their flying schedules to roughly 30 percent of normal this month. With fewer planes in the skies, some are flying near capacity.
Global airlines body IATA came out last week in favour of passengers wearing masks onboard, as debate intensifies in the United States on the role that government agencies should play in mandating new safety measures for flying before a vaccine is developed.
While major US airlines have individually mandated facial coverings, the Federal Aviation Administration has declined to implement the requirement, and it is not clear if the agency has the authority to compel passengers to wear face masks.
In a statement on Tuesday, the FAA said it would continue to engage in discussions about protecting the health and safety of flight crews and the travelling public and was "lending aviation expertise to federal public health agencies and airlines as they issue guidance for crew members, including health monitoring, screening protocols and aircraft cleaning."
Several airline union groups have called for a federal mandate on measures including masks, social distancing and cleaning.
"Airlines are implementing policies on the fly with essentially no coordination or direction from the federal government," said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, representing nearly 50 000 flight attendants at 19 airlines.
"We need federal requirements that mitigate risk during this pandemic and put the safety of crews and the travelling public first."