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The largest of the U.S. airlines joined its competitors on Friday in creating safety measures the industry has never seen before as they all attempt to get their businesses flying again in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown.
Southwest, which according to recent U.S. Department of Transportation data claimed 20 percent of U.S. air passengers wtih more than 132 million fliers, unveiled a series of safety measures from capping bookings at around 79 passengers on its Boeing 737-700s and about 102 passengers on its 737-800s to creating "multiple layers of stringent cleaning and disinfecting" to having passengers wear face masks. If passengers do not have a face-covering one will be provided.
American Airlines was the first carrier to announce it will offer face masks to its customers earlier this week. On Thursday the offer became mandatory with a mask-wearing policy for all who board its planes, starting on May 11.
“The American Airlines team continues to prioritize the safety of our customers and team members, and requiring a face covering is one more way we can protect those on our aircraft,” said Kurt Stache, the senior vice president of customer experience at American Airlines, in a Thursday press release.
American's decision came within hours of Jet Blue and Delta Air Lines which will institute the requirements May 4. Frontier Airlines also said on Thursday its face mask policy will begin May. 8. In addition, Delta is informing passengers that the masks should be worn at check-in counters, Delta Sky Clubs, boarding gate areas and jet bridges
|AAL||AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC.||11.11||+0.61||+5.81%|
|UAL||UNITED AIRLINES HLDG.||29.46||+1.42||+5.06%|
|DAL||DELTA AIR LINES INC.||26.17||+0.96||+3.81%|
But masks are just part of the myriad of measures the airlines are implementing to ensure safety.
United is instituting a type of social distancing policy with middle seats not being made available. According to the airline travel site, The Points Guy, Delta and Alaska Airlines are also not selling some seats capping sales in cabins by as much as 60 percent of available seats
Frontier is taking the step of asking passengers to fill out a health acknowledgment form before boarding its aircrafts.
“We want our passengers to feel comfortable when flying with us by protecting themselves and their fellow travelers as we all navigate the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Barry Biffle, the CEO of Frontier Airlines, in a company statement. “This new measure is aligned with CDC recommendations and those of many municipalities within the U.S. that include wearing a face covering when out in public.”
All of these new policies are meant to promote customer and team member safety while adhering to guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This current challenge is unlike any we've faced before, but we are battle-hardened, and we are resilient," wrote Southwest CEO Gary Kelly in an email to customers.
The timing of all these new actions comes just as there has actually been an increase in air travel.
The domestic face mask policy updates come the same week the TSA marked its highest number of screened passengers in the U.S. since April 3. According to the agency, 128,875 passengers were screened last Sunday. While that may be a high watermark for airlines, last year at this time the TSA screened 2.5 million.
This new era of air safety, like the pandemic, is a global effort. In Canada, passengers flying on Air Canada are required to wear a mask. There is also a mandate from the Canadian government that all passengers flying to Canada, from Canada or taking a connecting flight in Canada must wear a mask or a face covering.
In Europe, Lufthansa Group which owns the German national airline of the same name, as well as Swiss Air and Austrian Airlines, have also implemented mandatory face mask policies as well.