Three Major U.S. Airlines Won’t Force Passengers to Wear Masks Inflight

A requirement at the airport will only be "encouraged" in the air

face masks
A scene from LAX, where passengers and crew are required to wear masks
Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Air travel during a pandemic is scary, and we’re not even getting the comfort of an empty middle seat.

Not only are flights potentially going to be packed, they’re not going to force passengers to cover up. According to Reuters, three top U.S. airlines are telling their crews not to force passengers to wear masks or coverings, but just “encourage” them to do so instead.

While American, United and Delta plan to enforce the face mask requirement at the airport — and even hand out masks to those who don’t have them — it’s a different matter once the plane leaves the gate and gets up in the air.

“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,” as American told its pilots in a message explaining its new policy.

Basically, anyone who chooses not to wear a mask will not be considered disruptive or a Threat Level 1, which would require the plane to divert or land.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not made face coverings a requirement, although the the International Air Transport Association (IATA) “supports the wearing of face coverings for passengers and masks for crew.”

Travel site View From a Wing sees the lack of enforcement of face coverings as potentially a non-issue: It’s still a requirement at the gate (which should “weed out” some people), ongoing coronavirus fears and the threat of social shaming may push 90 percent of people or more to still wear them, and it’s a better option than diverting an entire plane. And there is a chance the airlines could be subject to lawsuits if they forced passengers to wear a mask if they had a medical condition.

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