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Airlines to Temporarily Ban Passengers who Refuse to Wear Face Masks

That face covering is a lot more comfortable than the long walk to your vacation destination.

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Wearing a face covering in public is the decent thing to do, whether you're merely venturing to the grocery store or hopping a cross-country flight. And the latter activity might now require it. Nearly every major airline has implemented a policy mandating travelers wear face masks while in flight, and those that refuse face more than a simple slap on the wrist. 

United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Southwest Airlines are among those planning to enforce travel restrictions on customers unwilling to comply, according to published reports.

"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," A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a press release earlier this week. "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."

Each participating airline has committed to following three steps: preflight communication, onboard announcements, and consequences in the event of noncompliance. Passengers can expect to be educated on the policies, made aware of consequences, and punished accordingly should they not follow the rules. 

There are exceptions, however. Travelers are allowed to remove face masks for eating and drinking. In addition, coverings will not be required for those with medical conditions prohibiting them from wearing one. 

"Wearing a mask is a critical part of helping make air travel safer," said Dr. James Merlino in statement from United Airlines. Merlino is 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."

Individual airlines will address noncompliance. United, for example, announced that beginning June 18, refusal to wear a mask will result in a temporary ban from flights.

"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," chief customer officer Toby Enqvist said in the United statement, adding that most passengers cooperate without provocation.  

For the foreseeable future, customers not wearing a face covering on board will first be asked to wear one. Flight attendants will be armed with extras for those who fail to bring their own. Anyone refusing altogether can expect consequences. The passenger will be subject to a formal review and likely placed on the company's no-fly list for a "duration of time to be determined," United said. 

Delta has similarly spoken out about its own possible do-not-fly lists, warning "those who choose not to comply with this or other safety requirements risk future flight privileges with Delta." 

Per the official A4A announcement, the policies will remain in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

h/tTravel & Leisure

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Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.