APEX Advises Airline Customers to Wear Face Coverings Throughout Journey

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    APEX/IFSA CEO Dr. Joe Leader

    APEX members Air Canada and JetBlue are among the first to require travelers to wear face coverings. As airlines update their policies regarding face coverings for customers and crew, APEX has revised its list of best practices for COVID-19 to include guidance on the subject. In accordance with the CDC’s recommendation, APEX is advising everyone to wear face coverings during air travel.

    To slow the spread of COVID-19, the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) is advising all travelers and customer-facing airline employees to wear face coverings throughout their journey, except when eating or drinking. Dr. Joe Leader, APEX/IFSA CEO, announced this update to APEX’s COVID-19 best practices yesterday during FlightPlan, an online broadcast event hosted by in-flight Wi-Fi provider Inmarsat and APEX.

    “Airline passengers and crew worldwide need to know that air travel will set the highest safety standard in our battle against COVID-19,” APEX/IFSA CEO Dr. Joe Leader said today. “By advising both crew and passengers to wear face coverings throughout their journey, APEX becomes the first global airline association to set a higher standard for air travel safety. Our airlines are actively using electrostatic disinfectants and UVC cleaning, while conducting the deepest level of proactive steps imaginable. Airline passengers and crew should be equally proactive with face coverings to maximize safety for all.”

    APEX’s advisory is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation that everyone wear a face covering when in public, including during travel. APEX also echoes the CDC’s guidance that medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders. The CDC has issued an outline of what constitutes a suitable face covering, which includes homemade masks, and the World Health Organization has also released advice for when and how to use masks.

    US Senators Edward J. Markey and Richard Blumenthal are advocating for a nationwide rule requiring face coverings for all individuals engaged in air travel. “Air travel is an inherently interstate issue; public health decisions for this sector cannot be left to individual states,”  they wrote in a letter to United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. “Different airlines and airports have adopted conflicting policies that will undermine overall public health if they are not unified around a single, strong standard.”

    While many airlines have made face coverings compulsory for cabin crew, fewer have mandated that their customers must follow similar guidelines. For those airlines that are requiring customers to wear face coverings, there are some exceptions, including children and travelers with disabilities.

    “This is the new flying etiquette.” – Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue

    Air Canada was one of the first airlines to make its recommended face-covering practice mandatory for both customers and crew. The rule, which went into effect on April 20, applies both in flight and at locations in the airport where social distancing is not possible, such as at security checkpoints and during boarding. The airline recommends non-medical coverings, indicating that cloth masks and scarves are appropriate.

    On April 27, JetBlue announced that all customers must wear a face covering during travel, starting May 4. The airline already requires crew to cover their faces. “Wearing a face covering isn’t about protecting yourself; it’s about protecting those around you,” said Joanna Geraghty, president and chief operating officer, JetBlue. “This is the new flying etiquette.”

    The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) commended JetBlue for being the first US airline to require face coverings for passengers. “All airlines should follow JetBlue’s lead, including its efforts to fully communicate the change before it becomes effective next week so that flight attendants are not put in the position of being enforcers without information and backing from the airline,” the AFA said in a press release. “We continue to call on [the Department of Transportation] … to mandate masks for all crew, employees and passengers in airports and on airplanes.”

    Lufthansa Group, which counts Lufthansa, SWISS, Austrian and Eurowings among its airlines, is also asking passengers to wear a mouth-nose cover as of May 4. In a press release published today, the airline group recommends that travelers wear the covers on board and at the airport “whenever the required minimum distance cannot be guaranteed.” All flight attendants on Lufthansa Group flights must wear face coverings. Aeromexico’s customer-facing employees must also wear masks, according to the airline’s chief customer and digital officer and EVP, Andres CasteƱada.

    Delta Air Lines began requiring staff who come within six feet of customers or other employees to wear masks or face coverings as of April 28, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The airline is also reportedly strongly encouraging customers to wear masks and is offering them for free at ticket counters, boarding gates and on flights. Delta plans to reevaluate its policy on face coverings on June 30.

    United has instructed that flight attendants must wear face coverings, which the airline will make available to customers as well starting early May. American Airlines said it will also begin distributing face masks, as well as hand sanitizer, to passengers in early May. The airline’s flight attendants must wear masks as of May 1.

    Since this story was published, several airlines announced updates to their rules regarding face coverings for customers:

    • Delta is requiring face coverings for all passengers as of May 4.
    • United is requiring all travelers to wear a facial covering on board effective May 4.
    • American is enforcing face coverings for customers as of May 11.
    • Alaska Airlines has made face masks mandatory for guests starting May 11 and for employees who cannot maintain six feet of social distance from guests or co-workers, starting May 4.
    • Frontier Airlines will begin requiring that passengers wear a face covering over their nose and mouth at the airline’s ticket counters, gate areas and on board, effective May 8. Face coverings have been required for Frontier flight crews since April 13.
    • Southwest Airlines customers are required to wear face coverings or a mask starting May 11. Customer-facing employees must wear face masks or coverings as of May 3.
    • Spirit Airlines‘ guests will be required to wear appropriate masks or face coverings over the nose and mouth, effective May 11. Spirit will also require all guest-facing team members to wear face coverings.
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