Airlines step up enforcement of passenger mask requirement

Masked airline passengers arrive at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport on May 20, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Masked airline passengers arrive at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport on May 20, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Airlines are stepping up enforcement of requirements that passengers and employees wear masks, with some carriers including Delta Air Lines threatening to ban travelers who don't comply.

Atlanta-based Delta said those who choose not to comply with its requirement to wear a mask in flight "risk future flight privileges with Delta."

The airline also said customers will not be allowed to board a Delta plane without wearing a mask.

“While we double down on our safety commitment of ensuring customers wear their mask a required, we are making sure customers are aware of and acknowledge this requirement by adding even more digital notifications, signage and announcements,” the airline said.

Chicago-based United Airlines also said passengers not heeding the mask requirement will lose their travel privileges on the carrier  "for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review." Its new policy takes effect Thursday.

And American Airlines said it will deny boarding to customers who don’t comply with its mask requirement and “now may also deny future travel” for customers who refuse to wear a face covering.

The moves come amid a steep drop in air travel and continued health risks in crowded, enclosed spaces because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines for America -- the lobbying group for U.S. carriers -- said this week that each airline will "determine the appropriate consequences for passengers who are found to be in noncompliance of the airline's face covering policy up to and including suspension of flying privileges on that airline."

The airline association said airlines "are very serious about requiring face coverings on their flights" and that carriers would have "substantial consequences for those (passengers) who do not comply with the rules."

Delta, the dominant airline at Hartsfield-Jackson, says on its website that customers and employees are required to wear a face mask or face covering over their nose and mouth throughout travel, including at check-in, gate areas, jet bridges and on board the plane except during meal service.

Delta’s policy also says: “People unable to keep a face covering in place, including children, are exempt, along with those who have trouble wearing a mask due to an underlying medical condition. Customers are encouraged to communicate their exception with a Delta representative when asked to wear a face covering.”

Passengers are encouraged to bring their own mask, but Delta can also provide masks to those who don't have them.

Under United’s policy, customers are expected to wear a mask during the flight except when eating or drinking. Exceptions are small children, those with a medical condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering, and those who cannot put on or remove a face covering. Fort Worth, Texas-based American has similar exceptions.

United said customers not wearing a face covering who don’t fall within an exception will be informed of the policy, provided a mask if needed and given a policy reminder card. If the passenger still does not comply, that will trigger an incident report and review.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier in Atlanta, also requires customers and employees to wear face masks or coverings and provides them to those who don’t have them.

Southwest said it will deny boarding to any customer who chooses not to wear a face mask or covering while traveling.

“Of course, we understand there may be times when a Customer needs to temporarily remove their face covering; for instance, to eat, drink, or take medicine. However, we expect Customers to put their face masks or coverings back on as soon as possible,” Southwest said in a written statement.

The Association of Flight Attendants union, which represents flight attendants at United and some other airlines, called for the federal government to mandate masks for passengers and frontline workers, calling them essential to keep people safe and to “rebuild confidence in air travel.”