JetBlue will require passengers to wear face coverings starting next week, becoming the first major American airline to compel its customers to cover their noses and mouths since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
The policy, which takes effect Monday, covers the duration of a passenger’s flight, from check-in through boarding and deplaning, the airline said.
“Wearing a face covering isn’t about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting those around you,” Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “This is the new flying etiquette. Onboard, cabin air is well circulated and cleaned through filters every few minutes, but this is a shared space where we have to be considerate of others.”
JetBlue already had been requiring its crew members to wear face coverings while on duty. The airline said it modeled its new policy on a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people cover their noses and mouths in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
JetBlue referred to the CDC’s definition of a face covering as a cloth that should fit snugly against the side of a person’s face, is secured with ties or ear loops, “and include multiple layers of fabric for unrestricted breathing.” The CDC recommends that surgical masks and N95 respirators be reserved for health care workers and other medical professionals.
The company said it would remind passengers of the new policy before their flight by email and through announcements and signage at airports. Small children who are not able to wear a face covering are exempt from the requirement, the airline said.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, applauded JetBlue’s new policy.
“Good job, JetBlue, for being the first U.S. airline to take this responsible step, which the CDC advises will help slow the spread of the virus,” she said in a statement.
Her union has been pushing for the Department of Transportation, in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, to require masks for airline crews and passengers, and it has been urging people to fly as little as possible during the pandemic.
“Most U.S. airlines are now requiring flight attendants to wear a mask while working,” she said, “but we need passengers to wear masks in order to best protect everyone onboard, including crew.”
“In the meantime,” she added, “we encourage all passengers to voluntarily wear a face covering while traveling.”
Many passengers have been wearing masks, but some travelers have been sharing images on social media suggesting that the precaution was not being universally followed.
United Airlines announced last week that it was requiring masks for its flight attendants. And Delta announced Monday that it was requiring its employees to wear masks or face coverings when they are “unable to maintain at least 6 feet” of distance from another employee or customer.
“We will continue to make masks and face coverings available to employees, and you are also free to use your own face covering,” Delta said in a memo to employees Monday.
“We are strongly encouraging customers to wear masks, too, and we plan to make them available,” a Delta spokesman, Morgan Durrant, said in an email.
American Airlines also announced Monday that flight attendants on its domestic and international flights would be required to wear masks starting Friday.
Although American Airlines does not require passengers to wear masks, the company tells passengers that they may be required by local law “to wear one in the airport where your trip beings, where it ends or where you connect.”
Since late March, JetBlue has limited the number of seats for sale on most flights to allow for more space between passengers who are not traveling together, the company said.
Last month, American Airlines announced that it would not be assigning 50% of main-cabin middle seats or seats near flight attendant jump seats.
United and Delta are also blocking sales of middle seats.
“Customers aren’t able to select middle seats or seats next to each other, and we’re also alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs,” said Nicole Carriere, a United spokeswoman.