Monday may mark the beginning of a new kind of airline travel experience due to coronavirus. Starting May 4, JetBlue will require crew members as well as passengers to wear face masks while traveling. As CBS News reported on Tuesday, the company is the first airline to extend this kind of policy to ticketholders.
Similar measures have been put in place in various airlines, though none include mandates for passengers. However, United, Delta, American and Frontier Airlines all require their crews to wear facemasks while working. Other airlines outside the U.S. are even taking it further, such as Malaysia Airlines, where passengers have to wear masks from check-in through to baggage claim. Peter Tippett, the CEO of CareMesh, a national directory of health care providers, is in favor of the policy, as he explained on CBS Money Watch.
"Passengers wearing masks would absolutely make life safer for everyone," Tippett explained. "If you as an airline could only do one thing — between passengers wearing masks and flight attendants wearing masks — passengers wearing masks would win in terms of reducing risk for everyone. First, masks stop you from touching your nose or mouth, and those are the number one and two ways people get coronavirus. A mask also stops water particles — even a rin-tin-tin mask stops those, which are much more likely to infect you than dry virus particles."
Despite the proven effectiveness of masks, to the point that the CDC even reversed course on its official guidelines as more information about COVID-19 became apparent, Tippett understands why so few airlines have elected to enforce such a policy.
"What would you do if someone were to come on board and take their mask off?" Tippett asked. "Passengers nearby could freak out and you could imagine bad things happening. Flight attendants have enough fights to worry about with seatbacks and things, I can imagine that's part of the problem with imposing a rule."
Airlines, like many industries, have been severely impacted by the global pandemic. Non-essential travel was strongly discouraged, meaning the average flight is only 15 percent full on average. United Airlines is also being sued after refusing to allow refunds after trips had to be canceled due to travel bans and Stay-at-Home mandates.
Both airlines and airports alike also started laying off and furloughing employees due to the lack of travel. Even as states begin to lift their restrictions after weeks on lockdown, it's unclear how eager people will be to hop on a plane.