Local News

Most airlines don't require face masks, despite coronavirus threat

Posted April 28, 2020 6:44 p.m. EDT
Updated April 28, 2020 7:08 p.m. EDT

Airports and planes are already known as places that can cause the rapid spread of germs.

Hundreds of people congregate in these confined spaces for hours at a time, often touching the same surfaces.

So you might think that, amid an international pandemic, that travelers might be required to cover their mouths and noses with a mask. And you’d be wrong.

As Americans begin to resume travel, some are worried that face masks aren't required for most commercial airline passengers. A video taken by a Chapel Hill woman prompted outrage on Monday because it showed a video of passengers sitting close together on a flight from New York’s JFK Airport through Charlotte.

As of Tuesday, JetBlue was the only airline that had announced plans to require passengers to wear masks. That will start May 1.

John Kasarda, an aviation expert at UNC-Chapel Hill, thinks other airlines should follow suit.

“I think it makes good business sense,” Kasarda said. “Because I think, if the passengers realize that all of those on the flight also have face masks, they are less likely to catch COVID-19, and therefore more likely to fly.”

If airlines don't take the initiative on their own, Kasarda thinks the Federal Aviation Administration will step in and require face coverings. However, an FAA spokeswoman told WRAL in an email that the agency doesn’t have that legal authority.

"The FAA regulates safety of flight. Other local, state, and federal agencies regulate public health,” the spokeswoman said.

So airlines are handling the coronavirus threat differently.

American Airlines, for instance, told WRAL that it’s limiting the number of passengers on each aircraft. The airline will only use 50% of middle seats. It also plans to require flight attendants to wear masks, and to distribute wipes to passengers.

Southwest Airlines plans to offer face masks, gloves and wipes to customers, a spokesman told WRAL on Tuesday.

Rep. David Price, a Democrat who represents the Durham area in Congress, said he wants to see more collaboration among federal agencies.

"I commend the airlines that have taken additional safety precautions to protect both the crew and passengers, but we need clear and consistent guidance from the responsible federal agencies to set a uniform standard.”

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