Airlines could ban passengers who don’t wear face masks

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You’re free to move about the cabin — but not without a mask.

Major US airlines may ban passengers who fly without face coverings as they strengthen enforcement of rules meant to curb the coronavirus.

Seven carriers plan to punish customers who flout mask requirements amid concerns about passengers taking them seriously, industry group Airlines for America announced Monday. Passengers caught breaking the rules may have their flying privileges suspended, though the consequences will vary by airline, the group said.

“US airlines are very serious about requiring face coverings on their flights,” Airlines for America president and CEO Nicholas Calio said in a statement. “Carriers are stepping up enforcement of face coverings and implementing substantial consequences for those who do not comply with the rules.”

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have adopted the tougher policies, Airlines for America said.

Major airlines began requiring masks for passengers in May to protect customers and crew from the deadly coronavirus. But flyers have complained about carriers failing to enforce the rules on packed flights amid the pandemic.

Each carrier will now communicate its mask policy to passengers before their flights and make onboard announcements outlining the possible penalties for breaking the requirement, Airlines for America said.

American said its new enforcement measures take effect Tuesday. The Texas-based carrier said it will bar passengers from boarding without a mask and those who refuse to wear one may be denied future travel.

Chicago-based United said passengers who break its mask rules will be placed on an “internal travel restriction list,” meaning they’ll be barred from flying for a certain period of time following a review of the incident. The policy will take effect Thursday and last for at least 60 days, United said.

“Today’s announcement is an unmistakable signal that we’re prepared to take serious steps, if necessary, to protect our customers and crew,” Toby Enqvist, United’s chief customer officer, said in a statement.

Airlines’ policies include exemptions for children and others who are unable to wear masks. Passengers also don’t have to wear them while eating or drinking.

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