No face mask? If you travel with this airline, you'll be placed on an internal list

It’s a 2020 version of a no-fly list. United Airlines will now treat its customers like potential terrorists are treated if they refuse to wear a face mask while flying. The airline is doubling down on its policy of mandatory face masks.

United Airlines is implementing an “internal travel restriction list” which sounds very Big Brother-ish. It goes into effect Thursday, so heads-up if you plan to fly on United in the near future and aren’t a mask-wearing kind of traveler. Other airlines have mandatory mask rules during the coronavirus pandemic, such as Delta, Southwest, Alaska, Frontier, Spirit, and JetBlue. This is the first I’ve seen of an internal list keeping track of passengers who will not comply. At least the passenger won’t be kicked off the flight. And the flight attendant is supposed to remain calm. A report will be filed by the flight attendant and a formal review of the incident will happen after the flight.

Under this new policy, if a flight attendant notices or is informed of a customer onboard who is not wearing a face covering and that passenger does not fall within an exception, the flight attendant will proactively inform the customer that for the health and safety of everyone, face coverings are mandatory for all customers and crew on board. They will also offer to provide the customer with a mask if needed. If the customer continues to be non-compliant, flight attendants will do their best to de-escalate the situation, again inform the customer of United’s policy, and provide the passenger with an In-Flight Mask policy reminder card. If a customer continues to not comply, the flight attendant will file a report of the incident, which will initiate a formal review process. Any final decision or actions regarding a customer’s future flight benefits will not occur onboard but instead take place after the flight has reached its destination and the security team has investigated the incident.

“U.S. airlines are very serious about requiring face coverings on their flights. Carriers are stepping up enforcement of face coverings and implementing substantial consequences for those who do not comply with the rules,” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio. “Face coverings are one of several public health measures recommended by the CDC as an important layer of protection for passengers and customer-facing employees.”

Exceptions to the mandatory mask requirement include passengers who have a medical condition or a disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering, those who cannot put on or remove a face covering themselves and small children. Masks must be worn for the duration of the flight except when eating or drinking. The mandatory mask requirement has been in effect for customers since early May. The rule is to be in effect for sixty days, maybe longer. Flight attendants, pilots, customer service agents, and ramp workers are also required to wear masks.

Last week, United Airlines began requiring a preflight health checklist during check-in from passengers. It’s called a “Ready to Fly’ checklist “to confirm, among other things, that they have not had COVID-19-related symptoms in the past 14 days; been diagnosed with the virus in the past 21 days; or had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 in the past 14 days.” This internal list shows the airline is serious or something.

“Every reputable heath institution says wearing a mask is one of the most effective things people can do to protect others from contracting COVID-19, especially in places like an aircraft where social distancing is a challenge,” said United’s Chief Customer Officer, Toby Enqvist. “We have been requiring our customers to wear masks onboard United aircraft since May 4 and we have been pleased that the overwhelming majority of passengers readily comply with our policy. Today’s announcement is an unmistakable signal that we’re prepared to take serious steps, if necessary, to protect our customers and crew.”

It sounds like United is looking out for any future lawsuits, covering itself from liability lawsuits if passengers are diagnosed with COVID-19 after a flight. Flying is uncomfortable enough under the best of circumstances and now with the threat of being on an internal no-fly list over the compliance of wearing a face mask, well, it doesn’t bode well for passengers who think airline employees are less than friendly, to begin with, right?

Oh, by the way, don’t worry about the air circulating around the cabin. United says it’s safe.

American Airlines is looking at following United’s lead in this internal list business. It, too, may deny future travel to anyone refusing to wear a mask. The airline already has a policy of refusing to board customers who refuse to wear a face mask. By considering making its own internal list to deny future travel, the airline would be upping the ante. Flying the friendly skies just got a little bit harder.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023