American Airlines says it will start distributing sanitizing wipes and gels, as well as face masks for passengers beginning early May. The move follows criticism of the airline after a video of a packed plane with little social distancing and very few passengers wearing face masks on a recent flight went viral despite guidance from the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The move to start giving out face masks will coincide with plans by the airline to require its flight attendants to wear a face mask from May 1 whenever they are on duty. Flight attendants at United Airlines have already been told they must wear a face mask and the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) would like federal officials to make the wearing of face masks or coverings by passengers mandatory as well.
“We are looking out for our customers’ well-being to give them peace of mind while they travel with us,” said Kurt Stache, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience about todays decision to hand out face masks to passengers.
“We’re moving quickly on these enhancements and we’ll continue to improve the travel experience for our customers and team members as we navigate these times together,” Stache continued.
Initially, not all passengers will be offered a face mask as supplies are distributed across American’s network. It’s not clear how American will be able to offer this service while ensuring that it does not prevent vital supplies reaching frontline healthcare working to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CDC recommends the use of masks or simple face coverings in crowded public places and especially in environments where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.
Stache said the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline was continuing to work with flight attendants “to make sure they have the equipment they need to feel safe”. In recent weeks, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) has blasted American for failing to take the need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) seriously.
The union, which represents some 27,000 flight attendants, claimed American had not be supplying enough PPE on flights despite repeated reassurances that it would give flight attendants the equipment they needed.
Until late March, American didn’t even allow its flight attendants to wear face masks on domestic flights and one staffer was threatened with disciplinary action if she chose to wear a mask on a flight. The airline changed its policy after a public backlash but initially insisted that flight attendants must provide their own face masks.
In addition to giving out face masks, American also announced on Monday that it would further improve its onboard cleaning programme in response to the Coronavirus crisis.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.