Most U.S. airlines will now require passengers to wear face masks onboard

Airline passengers will soon be required to wear face masks when flying to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest and United Airlines all said Thursday they would join the growing list of U.S. airlines that will require people to wear face coverings while onboard flights. JetBlue earlier this week became the first U.S. airline to announce it would require passenger face masks.

“Our flight attendants are now wearing masks in flight,” Kurt Stache, American Airlines senior vice president of customer experience, says in a recent video statement to customers. “Beginning May 11, we also require all customers to wear masks for the duration of every flight.”

Delta, United and JetBlue will reportedly require face masks on passengers beginning May 4. Frontier Airlines has said it will enact the requirement on May 8 with Southwest to follow on May 11.

“While we remain committed to our new standard of clean and to providing more space for our customers when they travel, we take seriously the CDC guidelines for adding this extra layer of protection,” Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer said in a statement, according to CNN. “We believe this change will give customers and employees some additional comfort when traveling with us.”

Airlines are already practicing safe-distancing by creating space between passengers, something they are able to do because most flights now are closer to empty than full. The Associated Press reports, citing industry statistics, that air travel is down 95 percent from a year ago. The average domestic flight has just 17 passengers, said the AP report.

Passenger for the most part will need to remember to pack their own face masks before heading to the airport, rather than expecting airlines to supply them..

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“We ask customers to bring their own masks or face coverings they are comfortable with when they travel,” Stache says. “We are working to procure face masks and hand sanitizer as a supplement.”

Yet, some airlines say they will have the masks on hand for those who forget to bring their own.

“It is highly encouraged to bring your own hand sanitizer and mask, and to wear your mask while traveling,” a statement from Southwest reads. “Face coverings or masks will be required for Customers starting May 11. If you forget your mask at home, one will be available for you.”

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), is pleased with these new developments. The association has been calling for airlines to require passenger face masks and for federal regulators to require them as well. The group says 300 airline crew members have contracted COVID-19.

“We’re happy to see airlines taking action to require masks or face coverings for passengers, crew and other frontline employees,” she told CNN. “We continue to call on the federal government — whether it be DOT, FAA, DHS, CDC — to require masks for crew, frontline employees and all passengers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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