Airline Crews Told Not To Enforce Face Mask Policy

Filed Under: American, Delta

Within the past week major US airlines have introduced a policy requiring all passengers to wear face masks or some sort of face coverings on flights. While the messaging seems strong, flight attendants and pilots are being told that they shouldn’t actually enforce this rule.

Flight attendants told to inform, not enforce

The way the new policy works, airlines are allowed to deny boarding to those passengers not wearing face masks, but once passengers are onboard, it’s a different story.

Reuters shares a memo that American Airlines sent to pilots, making it clear that once onboard the plane the face mask policy becomes more lenient. The crew’s role is to inform rather than to enforce.

As the memo reads:

“Once on board and off the gate, the face covering policy becomes more lenient. The flight attendant’s role is informational, not enforcement, with respect to the face covering policy.

Bottom line to the pilots: a passenger on board your aircraft who is being compliant with the exception of wearing a face covering is NOT considered disruptive enough to trigger a Threat Level 1 response.”

In a separate memo to flight attendants, American Airlines said the following:

“If the customer chooses not to comply for other reasons, please encourage them to comply, but do not escalate further.

Likewise, if a customer is frustrated by another customer’s lack of face covering, please use situational awareness to de-escalate the situation.”

Why create policies that won’t be enforced?

I’m guessing there are a couple of reasons that US airlines are basically telling crews not to enforce the rules.

First of all, I can only imagine the endless diversions that would be caused by passengers not wearing masks. This is potentially yet another point of conflict on planes.

That being said, I suspect the bigger reason for this is liability. The major airlines have exceptions so that young children and those with medical issues don’t have to wear masks.

Presumably the airlines would be opening themselves up to a lawsuit if they forced someone to put on a mask when they claim they have a medical condition.

For example, Alaska Airlines’ statement regarding exceptions for wearing masks is interesting, making it clear that people don’t have to disclose or prove the condition they have:

If a guest is exempt, how should they notify Alaska Airlines?

Guests are encouraged to communicate their exemption with an Alaska Airlines representative when they arrive at the airport. Note: In line with health privacy laws, guests are not required to disclose or prove their specific medical condition to airline employees and are asked to notify our airport staff upon boarding. Airport staff will inform the flight attendants of guests who have a medical exemption.

Understandably airlines want to avoid confrontations where passengers argue they were humiliated and scorned by the crew for not wearing a mask, claiming they have a condition. At least that’s the best logic I can come up with.

Bottom line

It’s not unreasonable to essentially say that the face mask rule will be enforced at the gate, while onboard the crew will provide reminders that are simply informational. At least that would be reasonable if people were reasonable.

Hopefully everyone takes the face mask requirement seriously, and we don’t see people taking off face masks inflight in order to “protest” the policy, or in order to create a viral video.

Comments
  1. What about eating and drinking onboard? Are passengers expected to eat and drink with the mask on ? This was never going to work from day 1

  2. Here we go – face masks are now the new emotional support animal. This is the reason that I won’t be flying until there is a vaccine.

  3. The problem is going to be other passengers who have been rightfully told that masks do offer a level of defense and that it requires those around you to wear them as well. No doubt if flights are full and passengers who complain can’t be moved you can expect this to turn into confrontation.

    I love the instructions for flight attendants to maintain situational awareness. That won’t be hard when two guys start going at each other in row 18. And they will.

    It’s sad and fascinating the difference in this country now versus post 9/11. Even with the horrific security problems and tension after 9/11 the country rallied together and we were patient together working through the new reality (remember the three hour lines snaking around terminals?) Today (and I think we know why) the country is at each others throats for anything and everything. Even something so simple as the courtesy of wearing a mask where people are closely confined for hours at a time becomes a rallying point towards aggression.

  4. Since COVID-19 has been proven to pass onto other mammals are “service animals” required to have masks on prior to boarding? Can phony service animals use phony masks like the guy I saw in a drugstore yesterday pulling his T-shirt collar over his nose when he went in to buy cigarettes?

  5. @Stuart – Unfortunately, that same disease has spread to various other regions of the World as well.

  6. We are all going to get it. All of this mask talk is ridiculous and pretentious. Let’s all get infected and get this over with already. I applaud Trump and others not to be sheep.

  7. Don’t you just love people who are willing to let over 3 million Die in the us alone just to ‘get it over with’

  8. Claimed benefits of masks, particularly ill fitting paper ones are way overstated, the WHO advice is clear. They will only make a difference on an airplane if those wearing one hold their breath for the duration of the flight.

  9. Just mark my word, there will quickly be some issue on a flight that causes a conflict, likely between two passengers. Likely someone who will try to engage a flight attendant, they may or may not do anything because one passenger wants another passenger to essentially mind their own business. Probably something that gets to the level of what happened to Dr. Dao.

    There have already been multiple brawls in retail stores, it’s a matter of time.

  10. It is not easy wearing a mask for long-haul flights. Indian Airlines is also giving a shield. How long can people wear that?

  11. For me it’s very simple – I cannot wear a face mask. I appreciate that to those who can, they simply cannot understand. The best analogy I can give is I don’t want kids, I don’t see anything good about having kids whatsoever, and yet other people glorify it. Neither one of us will probably ever understand the other, but I respect each person’s right to choose. In my case, I can’t breathe with a face mask on whatsoever. It baffles my mind how anyone can breathe with layers of cloth directly touching your mouth and nose and no real way for CO2 to escape and clean oxygen to enter. I start to dry heave, then gag, and then struggle to breathe within 2 minutes at maximum. I’m generally fine for the first 30-60 seconds. I have no moral objection or political objection to face masks, I really don’t care, and would be happy to wear one if my body would cooperate. It won’t. I have tried at home on 15 occasions at least and it’s the same result every time. I have zero anxiety issues in general, never have, so it’s not that. It’s physically impossible for me to breathe that way. If I did manage to get on an airplane (I wouldn’t try now), I’d remove it as soon as the plane took off. But more likely I’d claim medical exemption as it’s not possible for me.

  12. Airports & airlines need to put “enter at your own risk” signs by check-n counters, boarding areas, jet bridges and at aircraft entry points. And indicate the same during the reservation process.

  13. … just as the seatbelt sign that many do not comply with, you can’t force pax to wear a mask during flight. Personally, I wear my mask the the entire flight, yes, even for a 10+ hour trip… the positive spin, I tell ALL pax to stay more than 6 ft away from me and I’ll bring them what they wish…and no chit-chat in the galley, I don’t want them near me without a mask.,… those ays are over. 🙂

  14. Agree with MOHAMED BAQER. If the airlines hand out any kind of water, drinks, snacks, meals, etc., they cannot expect that you will wear the mask 100% of the time on the flight.

    When sitting on a plane, I would just have to accept that I am exposing myself to the people within 6 feet of me. That number, especially now, is relatively low. However, during the boarding process, I have a lot more people entering and exiting that 6 foot radius.

    Staying home is the best way to reduce you risk of exposure to Covid. When getting on a flight, you have to accept that you are exposing yourself to the germs of others, and vice versa. But you can do your best to reduce that risk, by wearing a mask/face covering, especially when boarding, moving about the cabin, when flight attendants walk down the aisles, etc.

  15. @ NK3 and others

    Here’s a snippet from Delta’s announcement: “Face coverings will be required starting in the check-in lobby and across Delta touchpoints including Delta Sky Clubs, boarding gate areas, jet bridges and on board the aircraft for the duration of the flight – except during meal service. Their use is also strongly encouraged in high-traffic areas including security lines and restrooms. People unable to keep a face covering in place, including children, are exempt.”

    So yes, during meal service it has never been expected to wear a face covering.

  16. This is what happens when layers of middle management are tripping over each other to write policy in hopes of keeping their jobs after October 1st.

  17. “…is NOT considered disruptive enough to trigger a Threat Level 1 response.”
    There is a subset of crew (both pilots and flight attendants) who overact to anything safety or security-related in matter what minor and have to be constantly told to use common sense.

  18. I hope it’ll be possible to request a seat change if my neighbor isn’t wearing a mask. I just feel safer if I’m next to someone who is wearing one – just my preference. I feel bad for the FAs having to deal with these requests and potential (likely) pax conflicts.

  19. Unbelievable, no one is reading between the lines?

    This is nothing more than another way of AA trying to push away responsibility and deniability.
    They even gave you a hint “if a customer is frustrated by another customer’s lack of face covering”, means passengers can go fight this one out. Because if a fight occurs between passengers, it’s a different issue now.

    The reason of endless diversion is just the result. The real reason of “is NOT considered disruptive enough to trigger a Threat Level 1 response.” because AA can’t really justify it.

    Yes part of it is liability issues but again the bigger reason is push away deniability.

    The underlying thing here is how much enforcement power does AA really have. Like the convenient race card that is a one size fits all lawsuit weapon. Having a personal reasons (i.e. medical) is a another convenient lawsuit weapon to use against AA.
    Here is the thing, on the ground the airline have more utilities at their disposal including their right to deny boarding.
    Think of a supermarket can refuse you entry into their store without a mask but can’t arrest you, only the police can.

    In the air, it becomes a whole new ballgame. Now FAA has the authority here. Unfortunately, FAA, who does have the power to do so, has so far done nothing to mandate this as a requirement.
    We all know cabin crew likes to make bogus FAA mandates. Given the public attention to this issue, enforcing can potentially blow up in the face for AA. Best way is to avoid this entirely in the air.

    So there you go, plausible deniability.
    It is all there between the lines.

  20. The idea of buyer beware, or fly at your own risk, is all the airlines can say if there is no law requiring a face mask. There are people who are rightly concerned for their health and safety and those who don’t care about themselves or others. That is the world we live in. Unlike all other obvious things we can see or talk about, this virus is invisible and many people are asymptomatic. So those people who are asymptomatic and don’t care about others are free to roam around this world, or in this case, an airplane, without a face mask and the only way to protect yourself 100% is to stay at home. Period. Otherwise you take your chances because you have no way of knowing who out there is infected. It is a very sad state of affairs. I hate that there are people who cherish their own freedoms so much that they don’t care if it kills mulititudes around them. It’s very very selfish. Even if they know it. Stay at home if you are scared. Buyer beware. Fly at your own risk, to life and limb. Who would have ever thought it would come to this?

  21. This was my experience on a recent Delta flight. I was seated in First. Pax boarded with face coverings but as soon as seated, removed them. The flight attendants said nothing. While it was just 2 passengers, there were a total of 6 of us sitting in the section so not a small %-age. Compliance to keep face coverings on – except for when drinking or eating – was MUCH better in Main Cabin and Comfort Plus which I flew for the balance of my trip.

  22. One used to be able to rely on middle aged adults, as the demographic most vested in stability, to keep it in their pants. There are no more adults. Everyone’s a child. Why should the minority who give a shit continue to do all the heavy lifting around here? You all wanna get a disease that maxes your out of pocket, you wanna point the statistical equivalent of one bullet in an eight shot revolver at your elderly parents, go ahead and do that. If you wanna “get it over with” and risk permanent lung damage, go for it. You’ll get many sick before you even know it. And you’ll lose all moral ground. Just please don’t go to the hospital, save that for those who give a crap.

  23. Choosing to not wear a mask in-flight may be seen by some as a way to gain a spare seat (or 2) as neighbouring pax ask to be reseated away from you. FYI, I am not advocating that sort of behaviour at all, however I suspect that those who would do it are way ahead of me anyway.

  24. I have asthma and I do have trouble breathing with a mask for more than a few minutes and I have purchased many types of masks to experiment, including those with plastic vents. However, I will suffer a mask over getting infected and if I can, everyone else should too.

    Since comments here stating that there are few adults left are sadly correct, the airlines should add another measure. Temperature checks at the gate, regardless of TSA temperature checks. Worldwide. We’ve been temperature checked at store entrances in Jerusalem for months, required to wear masks and I haven’t seen or even heard of anyone objecting. I know that my fellow Americans are a great deal stupider than my fellow Israelis, but it’s worth trying. And I suggest shaming non-complying pax with some kind of universal word or hand sign, that all other pax can employ peacefully.

  25. Stuart above hints at this underlying “aggression” in this country because “we know why”!? Then you’ve got Scott and MNbska who scream that people “dont care” and want to “get it over with” and thus those among us who dont wear masks are pointing a loaded weapon at everyone else. Look no further all of you than this comment/question which was made by Christiane Amanpour to a guest tonight on PBS: “Should the democratic party be taking advantage of this opportunity…?”. There it is folks. Disgusting and Frank reality. This economic devastation and human death is an “opportunity”? I could not believe that I just heard that… and yet Trump is the divisive one?… you sure about that?

  26. @Mr. Obvious, My reaction to the PBS comment is the same as yours, except it is Obvious that team Trump is also trying to grab advantage and simultaneously deflect responsibility for failure to provide leadership when it is needed most. The country is too damn tribal….win at any cost even if others die. It’s like color-war in day camp.

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