Alaska Airlines has become the latest carrier to lay down the law with its mandatory face mask rules by promising to boot anyone who refuses to wear a mask and banning passengers who take off their mask or face covering once onboard. The Seattle-based airline joins both American and United in denying travel to anyone over the age of two who can’t wear a mask, even for medical reasons, when the policy comes into force on August 7.
“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,” explained Alaska’s vice president of safety and security, Max Tidwell. “If you don’t wear a mask, you won’t be flying with us,” he continued.
The tough stance taken by yet another major carrier reflects just how frustrated airlines are becoming with a small number of passengers who simply refuse to wear a face mask despite clear scientific evidence that the use of even simple fabric face coverings could dramatically reduce the chance of becoming infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
Alaska first introduced its mandatory face mask policy on May 11, requiring all frontline employees and passengers to wear a mask or covering but initially allowed people to exempt themselves by declaring a medical condition. Then, in early June, the airline joined forces with the likes of America, Delta and jetBlue by threatening to ban passengers from future travel if they took their mask off during a flight.
Delta, which is the only airline to have publicly released figures, says it has already added over 130 passengers to its ‘no-fly’ list for face mask rule violations. The bans will last indefinitely and won’t be cancelled until face mask-wearing requirements are lifted.
There have, however, been reports that some passengers must violate the policy on multiple occasions before being banned. Now, Alaska says flight attendants will first issue passengers with a yellow warning card to gain compliance. If that fails, the passenger will be banned from future travel as soon as their flight lands.
“Any remaining portion of the guest’s itinerary will be cancelled – including connecting or return flights – along with any future trips the guest has booked,” Alaska announced on Wednesday.
In addition, Alaska joins Delta in banning face masks fitted with an exhaust valve. Face shields are acceptable but only if worn in addition to a face mask that covers both the nose and mouth.
Industry trade bodies have repeatedly argued that face mask policies are crucial in regaining passenger confidence in air travel but the Trump administration continues to resist calls to make face masks compulsory on planes and trains. Despite any clear evidence that COVID-19 can be spread in the plane cabin environment, one study that suggested a someone became infected onboard a flight highlighted the fact that the passenger removed his mask during a time that he was sat next to someone who was already infected.
Alaska also announced on Wednesday that it would continue blocking middle seats through October 31 as an additional physical distancing measure. Families will be able to sit next to one another if requested at check-in.
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.