American, Southwest Update Face Mask Policy: Travelers Could Face Travel Ban For Noncompliance

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American Airlines (AAL) and Southwest (LUV) updated their face mask policies Thursday, making it mandatory to wear them at all times in the airport as coronavirus cases surge across the U.S.

American will require all travelers over the age of 2 to wear a face covering, beginning on Wednesday. The face mask policy applies to anyone arriving at the airport as well as during check-in, boarding, flight, deplaning, at the baggage claim and until departure from the airport. The requirement also will apply to the company’s Admirals Club lounges.

American said the only time that face masks can be removed is when eating or drinking.

Passengers who do not comply with its policy will be barred from future travel for the duration of the face mask requirement, American said.

The airline does not allow exemptions to the policy, which is a departure from Delta, which announced last week it is allowing medical exemptions through a flight clearance process at check-in.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention one of the best ways we can slow the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a face covering,” Alison Taylor, chief customer officer at American Airlines, said in a statement. “Customers and team members have been clear that they feel more safe when everyone is wearing a face covering. In light of this important feedback, we are expanding and enhancing our requirements onboard and at airports.”

Southwest also made it mandatory to wear a face mask in the airport when traveling with the airline. The policy takes effect on Monday and is for all passengers over the age of 2.

Southwest said the the only exemptions to the requirement are for eating, drinking or taking medication. The policy applies to passengers during check-in, moving through the airport, boarding, flight, deplaning, retrieving baggage, and when they are in contact with a Southwest employee or another customer.

Travelers who fail to comply with Southwest’s policy will not be able to fly with the airline until the policy changes based on public health guidance.

United also issued a similar policy that goes into effect on Friday, requiring customers over the age of 2 to wear a face mask in the airport at all times or face being barred from future travel.

The U.S. has reported more than 3.9 million positive cases of the coronavirus with deaths from COVID-19 topping 143,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Shares of American were trading at $12.32 as of 12:40 p.m. ET, up 96 cents or 8.45% while shares of Southwest were trading at $34.08, up 80 cents or 2.36% at the same time. 

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