All passengers over the age of two will be required to wear masks on both airlines
Both Southwest and American Airlines are announcing new face-covering requirements beginning next week. All mask exemptions will end and the new policy will be strictly enforced by both airlines. All customers over the age of two will be required to wear masks or face coverings on board the airplane and at airports.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one of the best ways we can slow the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a face covering,” said Alison Taylor, the chief customer officer of American Airlines, in a statement. “Customers and team members have been clear that they feel more safe when everyone is wearing a face covering.”
The main reason behind the change in policy is to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among asymptomatic carriers, according to a press release. The only time masks or face coverings may be removed at the airport or on-board the aircraft is when the customer is eating or drinking. Anyone who refuses to comply with this policy at any time throughout their journey could be barred from all future travel for the duration of the face-covering requirement. American Airlines will begin enforcing the new requirement on July 29.
Southwest Airlines will be implementing a similar face-covering policy on July 27, requiring all customers over the age of 2 to mask up at every stage of the travel process from check-in to baggage claim, except for the “very brief” instances when the customer is eating or drinking. Southwest encourages customers to bring their own masks but says they will have some available at airports upon request.
“If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason (even a verifiable medical condition), we regret that we are unable to transport the Customer at this time,” Southwest said in a statement. “In those cases, we hope the Customer will allow us to welcome them on board in the future, if public health guidance, or other safety-related circumstances, regarding face coverings changes.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, face coverings help slow the spread of COVID-19. And while the CDC acknowledges that masks may not be feasible for everyone — citing those with intellectual or developmental disabilities, those who are hard of hearing, etc. — Southwest and American Airlines say they’ve seen too many “exceptions” to the policy presented without proof.
“The reason we’re doing this is we’re simply seeing too many exceptions to the policy and it has put our flight crews in a really tough spot,” per NPR. “It also made our customers pretty uncomfortable, so this is something that goes into effect next week.”
Currently, federal COVID-19 guidelines encourage people to wear masks while flying and urge airlines to leave some seats empty for safety reasons, but the Trump administration hasn’t made any of these air travel suggestions mandatory.