Any passenger who refuses to wear a face covering will be blacklisted and banned from flying with American carriers, according to the industry's new policy as airlines gradually return to the skies.
United Airlines unveiled its new mandatory policy that takes effect June 18.
United's no-mask-no-flight policy is in line with Airlines for America's (A4) efforts to beef up protective measures to prevent inflight transmission of Covid-19.
Airlines for America is the industry trade organization that represents major U.S. airlines. A4A announced on Monday that its member carriers will be vigorously enforcing face covering policies, putting rigor around rules requiring passengers and customer-facing employees to wear facial coverings over their nose and mouth.
The wear-a-mask policy is one critical aspect of the airlines' multi-layered measures to mitigate Covid-transmission risk and protect passengers and crew.
In a separate statement, Delta said: "Those who choose not to comply with this or other safety requirements risk future flight privileges with Delta, which is in keeping with the face covering enforcement policies Airlines for America recently announced," Delta said.
United said any passenger who does not comply when onboard a United flight will be placed on an internal travel restriction list. Customers on this list will lose their travel privileges on United for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review.
United said the policy will remain in place for at least the next 60 days.
“Every reputable heath institution says wearing a mask is one of the most effective things people can do to protect others from contracting Covid-19, especially in places like an aircraft where social distancing is a challenge,” said United’s Chief Customer Officer, Toby Enqvist.
“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. Today’s announcement is an unmistakable signal that we’re prepared to take serious steps, if necessary, to protect our customers and crew.”
Exempted from the face covering requirement are individuals who have a medical condition or a disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering, those who cannot put on or remove a face covering themselves and small children.
"Under this new policy, if a flight attendant notices or is informed of a customer onboard who is not wearing a face covering and that passenger does not fall within an exception, the flight attendant will proactively inform the customer that for the health and safety of everyone, face coverings are mandatory for all customers and crew on board," United said.
Incidents of noncompliance with be reported by flight attendants. "Any final decision or actions regarding a customer’s future flight benefits will not occur onboard but instead take place after the flight has reached its destination and the security team has investigated the incident," United said.
“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,” said A4A president and CEO Nicholas E. Calio.
“Face coverings are one of several public health measures recommended by the CDC as an important layer of protection for passengers and customer-facing employees.”
In April, United became the first major U.S.-based airline to require flight attendants to wear a face mask while on duty, and beginning in May, expanded that mandate to include all employees and customers on board. This includes front-line workers like pilots, customer service agents and ramp workers when on board an aircraft, along with any other United employees traveling using their flight benefits.
As of June 17, there have been 8 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 440,290 deaths globally, according to World Health Organization.
“Wearing a mask is a critical part of helping make air travel safer,” said Dr. James Merlino, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer at Cleveland Clinic. “The more people in a given space wearing masks, the fewer viral particles are making it into the space around them, decreasing exposure and risk.”
The airline’s mask policy is an important part of the United CleanPlus program, which brings together one of the most trusted brands in surface disinfection - Clorox - and the country's top medical experts - Cleveland Clinic - to inform and guide United's new cleaning, safety and social distancing protocols.
As part of this program, United is taking a layered approach to help protect passengers and employees on board. In addition to requiring masks, United Airlines planes have HEPA grade filters that recirculate air every 2-3 minutes, and the airline is using electrostatic sprayers to disinfect the cabin before flights.
In addition to the onboard actions, United has implemented dozens of other new procedures at other points in the travel journey including offering touchless check-in for baggage at more than 200 locations, asking customers to complete a health assessment at check-in, installing sneeze guards and adjusting the boarding process.