At the beginning of June, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its advice on wearing masks. It advised that the general public should wear “non-medical masks where there is widespread transmission and when physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.”
Now, in line with information from the Centers for Disease Control and JetBlue’s own medical experts, from 10 August, the US airline will no longer allow the use of face masks with vents or exhalation valves. JetBlue will also no longer allow customers to claim exemptions from wearing a face covering altogether.
“The simple act of wearing a proper face covering is one way we can all help ensure the safety of all JetBlue crewmembers and customers,” Joanna Geraghty, President and COO at Jetblue Airways, said. “Our terminals and airplanes are a shared space, and every customer must wear a proper face covering or will need to delay their travel on JetBlue until face coverings are no longer required. Our policy is meant to offer the strongest level of protection for everyone given all that we currently know about how COVID-19 is transmitted.”
It’s a view echoed by Alaska Airlines, which is introducing the same approach from 7 August.
“We all need to look out for each other during this health emergency, and the best way we can do that – and prevent the spread of the virus – is to simply wear a mask or face covering when we’re around each other,” said Max Tidwell, Alaska Airlines’ Vice President of Safety and Security. “Safety remains priority number one for Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. Our tougher policy shows how important this issue is to us and our guests. If you don’t wear a mask, you won’t be flying with us.”
Customers who do not agree to wear a face covering will not be allowed to board any aircraft, and customers who do not follow crewmember requests to wear a face covering while in-flight will be reviewed for future travel on both JetBlue and Alaska.
The majority of US airlines have introduced similar polices. The exemptions at time of writing are Allegiant Air, Delta and Hawaiian Airlines.
However, not everyone is behind this toughening of restrictions. It is claimed that such a blanket ban threatens the ability of some disabled passengers to travel by air. As John Morris, Founder of the WheelchairTravel.com accessible travel blog, writes, “That’s 7 of the 10 largest US airlines which have told disabled people with autism, asthma, cerebral palsy, claustrophobia, COPD, PTSD, severe anxiety and other conditions that they are not welcome onboard an aircraft. It is the largest ban on disabled air travel since the Air Carrier Access Act became law in 1986.”
As airlines battle to restore passenger confidence about air travel, the experience for disabled travellers looks set to become more challenging, and yet another stigma to endure.