United Airlines announced today that, along with other Airlines for America (A4A) members, it will strengthen mandatory mask policies to further mitigate against the spread of COVID-19 and help continue to keep passengers and crew safe. While the overwhelming majority of passengers are complying with United's mandatory policy, starting on June 18, any passenger that does not comply when onboard a United flight will be placed on an internal travel restriction list. Customers on this list will lose their travel privileges on United for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review.
United currently requires all passengers to wear a face covering onboard its flights and expects that policy to remain in place for at least the next 60 days. The only exceptions to this policy are individuals who have a medical condition or a disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering, those who cannot put on or remove a face covering themselves and small children. Customers are expected to wear a mask for the duration of the flight, except when eating or drinking.
"Every reputable heath 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's 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. Today's announcement is an unmistakable signal that we're prepared to take serious steps, if necessary, to protect our customers and crew."
Under this new policy, if a flight attendant notices or is informed of a customer onboard who is not wearing a face covering and that passenger does not fall within an exception, the flight attendant will proactively inform the customer that for the health and safety of everyone, face coverings are mandatory for all customers and crew on board. They will also offer to provide the customer with a mask if needed. If the customer continues to be non-compliant, 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.
"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 A4A 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."
In April, United became the first major U.S.-based airline to require flight attendants to wear a face mask while on duty, and beginning in May, expanded that mandate to include all employees and customers on board. This includes front-line workers like pilots, customer service agents and ramp workers when on board an aircraft, along with any other United employees traveling using their flight benefits.
"Wearing a mask is a critical part of helping make air travel safer," said Dr. James Merlino, 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."
The airline's mask policy is an important part of the United CleanPlus program, which brings together one of the most trusted brands in surface disinfection - Clorox - and the country's top medical experts - Cleveland Clinic - to inform and guide United's new cleaning, safety and social distancing protocols. As part of this program, United is taking a layered approach to help protect passengers and employees on board. In addition to requiring masks, United Airlines planes have HEPA grade filters that recirculate air every 2-3 minutes, and the airline is using electrostatic sprayers to disinfect the cabin before flights.
In addition to the onboard actions, United has implemented dozens of other new procedures at other points in the travel journey including offering touchless check-in for baggage at more than 200 locations, asking customers to complete a health assessment at check-in, installing sneeze guards and adjusting the boarding process.