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Don't want to wear a face covering on a flight? You could be banned from flying

The carriers say the increased enforcement helps keep their employees and passengers safe from COVID-19.
Credit: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
A Delta jet lands at Salt Lake City International Airport, Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — An organization made up of the nation's largest air carriers announced Monday passengers could have their flying privileges revoked if they do not wear face coverings.

It is the airlines' latest action in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 and, perhaps, one that comes with the most severe consequences for their customers.

Airlines for America said its member airlines -- including the likes of Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and others -- will implement these policy changes: 

  1. Preflight Communications: Each airline will clearly articulate its individual face-covering policy in communications with customers, which may require passengers to acknowledge the specific rules during the check-in process.
  2. Onboard Announcements: Onboard the aircraft, crew members will announce specific details regarding the carrier’s face covering policy including the consequences passengers could face for violating the policy.
  3. Consequences for Noncompliance: Each carrier will determine the appropriate consequences for passengers who are found to be in noncompliance of the airline’s face covering policy up to and including suspension of flying privileges on that airline.

Many airlines required all passengers to wear face coverings during their flights as the pandemic worsened and COVID-19 cases climbed, with most coming on board with a policy by early to mid-May. 

United said Monday it will put any passenger who does not comply on an "internal travel restriction list" starting June 18.

"Customers on this list will lose their travel privileges on United for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review," the airline said in a statement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a cloth face covering is a highly recommended method to curb the spread of COVID-19 because it may keep the wearer from spreading the respiratory virus to others. It can be especially useful in situations, like an airplane, where social distancing measures can be difficult to maintain.

Noting the effectiveness of face coverings, the airline trade group is putting some teeth behind the recommendation.

"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 in a news release. 

"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."

TEGNA Staff contributed to this report.