(BUSINESS INSIDER) – JetBlue has become the first US airline to say all passengers must wear a face coverings while flying.
The airline said on Monday: “This new policy will require customers to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth throughout their journey, including during check-in, boarding, while in flight and deplaning.”
The change will come into effect on May 4, the airline said.
It also said that passengers will be reminded of the requirement through emails before their flight and through signs and announcements in airports.
“Small children who are not able to maintain a face covering are exempt from this requirement.”
JetBlue said the policy was modeled on US Centers for Disease Control guidance. The CDC says it “advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
The CDC says cloth face coverings should fit snugly against the side of the face, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric and let people breathe unrestricted.
Makeshift masks are fine. Amid a national shortage of surgical masks and N95 masks, the CDC says higher-grade masks should be left for medical workers.
Canada has already made face covering compulsory on all flights to and from the country, regardless of airline.
In a statement Monday, JetBlue president and COO Joanna Geraghty said: “Wearing a face covering isn’t about protecting yourself it’s about protecting those around you.”
“This is the new flying etiquette. Onboard, cabin air is well circulated and cleaned through filters every few minutes, but this is a shared space where we have to be considerate of others. We are also asking our customers to follow these CDC guidelines in the airport as well.”
The airline already required its crew members to wear facial coverings.
JetBlue also says that it is limiting the number of passengers on every flight to ensure “as much personal space as possible” for each traveller, and says it has “increased the rigor of its aircraft cleanings at night and between flights, using disinfectant approved to kill the coronavirus.”
JetBlue flies across the US as well as to destinations in Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
The Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing US flight attendants, praised the announcement in a statement: “Good job, JetBlue for being the first U.S. airline to take this responsible step.”
“Most US airlines are now requiring Flight Attendants to wear a mask while working, but we need passengers to wear masks in order to best protect everyone onboard, including crew,” AFA President Sara Nelson said.
The coronavirus pandemic has halted much flying, devastating the airline industry and already causing airlines to close.
But airlines are also worried about how the industry can survive when more countries open up and flights can resume, as people may me more afraid to travel, may have less of a reason to travel for work, and many tourism hotspots may be decimated by the virus and unwelcoming to tourists.
Without a coronavirus vaccine, airlines may also be forced to embrace policies that could further harm their finances.
The head Irish low-cost airline Ryanair, for example, one of the world’s largest, said it will not fly if it is forced to keep the middle seat empty to enforce social distancing measures.