American Airlines will change its face mask policy to comply with a federal mandate from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requiring passengers to wear a face mask on airplanes and other forms of public transport. The order came into force at 11:50 pm (EST) on Monday evening and could now mean that antimaskers face civil penalties for refusing to wear an approved face mask on domestic and international flights.
The order, however, grants an exemption to passengers with a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning that some airlines such as American which adopted very strict face mask rules will now have to accept maskless passengers.
American Airlines had previously told disabled passengers to find another carrier to fly with if they couldn’t wear a face mask but the Dallas Fort Worth-based airline now says it will comply with the CDC so long as passengers wishing to use the exemption first notify them with at least 72-hours notice and provide documentation from a licensed health care provider.
In addition, American also says it will require exempt passengers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from COVID-19 – similar to pre-departure testing requirements that the CDC recently introduced for international flights departing for the United States.
But while airlines have broadly welcomed pre-departure tests for international flights, the industry has roundly rejected the idea for domestic services. The CDC has said that it is actively looking into the policy idea as part of President Joe Biden’s executive order for a review of pandemic-related safety measures for domestic air travel.
In a letter to the White House COVID-19 recovery team, a group of airline unions and trade groups set out their reasons for why pre-departure testing for domestic flights shouldn’t go ahead. Signatories for the letter included Airlines 4 America which represents American Airlines.
“Give the strong scientific evidence that the risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard an aircraft is very low, we believe that a testing requirement for domestic air travel is unwarranted,” the letter argued. “Singling out air travel also would not effectively capture movement from state to state since travelers are likely to simply drive, take a bus of a train,” the letter continued.
Producing evidence as to why pre-departure testing wasn’t necessary, the coalition argued that the use of face masks significantly reduced the risk of COVID-19 transmission on a plane.
In a statement, American’s chief operating officer David Seymour explained: “Our mask requirement has been and will continue to be a critical component of our comprehensive effort to protect the health and well-being of our customers and team members during the pandemic.”
German flag-carrier Lufthansa has required passengers with a face mask exemption to provide a doctors note and proof of a negative COVID-19 test since last Summer.
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.