Move to ground coronavirus has airlines creating new safety rules

As airlines struggle to get their businesses flying right once again in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown, several are taking safety measures the industry has never seen before.

American Airlines was the first carrier to announce it will offer face masks to its customers earlier this week. On Thursday the offer became mandatory with a mask-wearing policy for all who board its planes, starting on May 11.

“The American Airlines team continues to prioritize the safety of our customers and team members, and requiring a face covering is one more way we can protect those on our aircraft,” said Kurt Stache, the senior vice president of customer experience at American Airlines, in a Thursday press release.

American's decision came within hours of Jet Blue and Delta Air Lines which will institute the requirements May 4. Frontier Airlines also said on Thursday its face mask policy will begin May. 8.  In addition, Delta is informing passengers that the masks should be worn at check-in counters, Delta Sky Clubs, boarding gate areas and jet bridges

But the airlines are not stopping with masks. United is instituting a type of social distancing policy according to a memo obtained by FOX 8 in Cleveland.

Frontier is taking the step of asking passengers to fill out a health acknowledgment form before boarding its aircrafts.

“We want our passengers to feel comfortable when flying with us by protecting themselves and their fellow travelers as we all navigate the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Barry Biffle, the CEO of Frontier Airlines, in a company statement. “This new measure is aligned with CDC recommendations and those of many municipalities within the U.S. that include wearing a face covering when out in public.”

All of these new policies are meant to promote customer and team member safety while adhering to guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The timing comes as there has actually been an increase in air travel.

The domestic face mask policy updates come the same week the TSA marked its highest number of screened passengers in the U.S. since April 3. According to the agency, 128,875 passengers were screened last Sunday. While that may be a high watermark for airlines, last year at this time the TSA screened 2.5 million.

This new era of air safety, like the pandemic, is a global effort. In Canada, passengers flying on Air Canada are required to wear a mask. There is also a mandate from the Canadian government that all passengers flying to Canada, from Canada or taking a connecting flight in Canada must wear a mask or a face covering.

In Europe, Lufthansa Group which owns the German national airline of the same name, as well as Swiss Air and Austrian Airlines, have also implemented mandatory face mask policies as well.