All passengers, barring some exceptions, are required to wear masks for the duration of the flight unless they are eating or drinking. Now, anyone who is noncompliant will be placed on an internal travel restriction list, the airline warned, adding that masks will be given to passengers who need them. United had required passengers to cover their face and mouth while aboard their aircraft since May 4.
"Every reputable health 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 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."
The airline expects its policy to remain in place for at least the next 60 days.
Passengers that are exempt from United's face covering requirements include young children and passengers with a disability or medical condition that prevents them from being able to wear a covering.
If the customer does not comply, the airline said "flight attendants will do their best to de-escalate the situation, again inform the customer of United's policy, and provide the passenger with an In-Flight Mask policy reminder card."
"If a customer continues to not comply, the flight attendant will file a report of the incident, which will initiate a formal review process. 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," according to United's updated policy.
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The strengthened policy came in conjunction with an announcement from Airlines for America, the trade organization for U.S. airlines, that its member carriers would increasingly enforce face-covering policy requirements for passengers and customer-facing employees.
The trade group, which also represents major carriers such as American, Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest, said each airline will "determine the appropriate consequences for passengers who are found to be in noncompliance."
"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 Airlines for America 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."
United recently decreed that passengers complete a health self-assessment prior to boarding.
The airline's "Ready-to-Fly" checklist, which is based on recommendations from the Cleveland Clinic, asks customers to confirm they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the 21 days prior to flying and have not experienced any virus-related symptoms within 14 days of their scheduled flight.
This story has been updated