US airlines begin to mandate face mask use



Airlines are taking a variety of precautions as the coronavirus pandemic continues.


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You’re not just imagining that the sky overhead is quieter. Empty airports, parked aircraft and sharply reduced flight schedules show just how severely the coronavirus pandemic has affected air travel in the United States. Passenger numbers from the Transportation Security Administration are even further proof. On Tuesday, the TSA screened just 110,913 people, a 95% decrease from the same day last year.

But as airplanes continue to fly across the country, airlines are changing the travel experience for the fewer people aboard. JetBlue was the first to announce mandatory mask use for both crew and passengers, earlier this week, with other carriers soon following its lead. The remaining major US airlines are simply encouraging masks for passengers. A few are providing them. And keep in mind that some airports, like San Francisco, require masks in the terminals. 

Airlines are taking a variety of precautions as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

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All the airlines I contacted say they’ve instituted deeper aircraft cleaning procedures between flights, such as wiping tray tables and overhead bin handles and “fogging” cabins with disinfectant. They’re also limiting upgrade options and are blocking some seats to keep passengers apart. Food and drink onboard, if you get it (more on that below), is likely to be served in single use containers, with bottled water largely the beverage of choice. Inflight magazines should be gone, too, and that hot-towel service? Don’t even ask for it. 

Other precautions start at the airport, where frontline employees are wearing masks and some check-in kiosks are gone to give people more space. You’re likely to scan your own boarding pass at the gate, and to further encourage social distancing, most airlines are boarding passengers in smaller groups, starting with those seated in the back (sorry first-class flyers). 


  • Currently, flight attendants and passengers don’t have to wear masks.
  • Middle seats are blocked on aircraft that have them. For aircraft without middle seats, aisles seats will be blocked.
  • Onboard food and drink service will be limited and all airport lounges are closed, except one at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.


  • There are no mask requirements for passengers or crew, but use is encouraged. A spokeswoman confirmed that the airline will provide passengers with masks, gloves and hand wipes.
  • Passengers are encouraged not to book middle seats and flight attendants may reseat you to enforce social distancing measures.
  • Food is sold only in prepacked containers




  • A spokeswoman said all employees regardless of role are required to wear masks.
  • Masks for passengers will be required at check-in, gate areas and during the flight beginning May 8. 
  • Every other row of seats will be blocked on all flights through at least early May.


  • Cabin crew members are required to wear masks.
  • Starting May 4, passengers also will be required to wear face masks, beginning at check-in. A spokesman said that a small number of masks will be available for passengers who don’t bring their own.
  • The number of available seats on all flights will be limited.
  • There’ll be fewer food and beverage options.


  • There are no mask requirements for flight attendants or passengers. 
  • Disposable sanitizing wipes are available on board transpacific and intra-Hawaii flights.
  • Some airport lounges are closed.
  • A spokesman says the airline “will soon launch updated seat maps with seat blocks specifically designed to maintain social distancing onboard.”


  • All in-flight snack and drink service is currently suspended.
  • Flight attendants and passengers aren’t required to wear masks, but they’re encouraged to do so.
  • Though the airline isn’t adapting its open seating policy to block any seats, a spokesman said that because Southwest’s flights are now only about 6% full, passengers have room to social distance.


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