American Airlines to hand out face masks for passengers, require them for flight attendants

A member of a ground crew walks past American Airlines planes parked at the gate during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 5, 2020.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines said Monday they will require thousands of employees to wear face masks and provide masks for passengers, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Airline labor unions have repeatedly demanded stronger protections against coronavirus. While air travel in the U.S. is down some 95% from a year ago because of the virus and stay-at-home orders around the world, flight crews have raised concerns about catching the virus on the job and have sought federally mandated procedures.

American said next month it will start handing out face masks and sanitizing wipes for passengers and require that its roughly 30,000 mainline and regional flight attendants wear masks while on duty.

Fort Worth, Texas-based American is also going to step up cleaning procedures to disinfect areas including tray tables, seat belt buckles, window shares and seat-back screens, galleys, jump seats and surfaces in the cockpit.

“Our team members on the frontline are truly going above and beyond during this time,” said Kurt Stache, American’s senior vice president of customer experience. “Their commitment is nothing short of incredible and we will continue to work with them to make sure they have the equipment they need to feel safe.”

Delta said it will require employees to wear masks or face coverings any time it’s impossible to keep a distance of six feet between themselves and a customer or another employee, starting on Tuesday and through June 30 “at which time we will reevaluate and update as necessary.”

“We are strongly encouraging our customers to wear masks and will make them available at ticket counters, gates and onboard airplanes,” four Delta officials said in a staff memo, which was seen by CNBC.

United Airlines last week started mandating masks or other face coverings for flight attendants, following a similar move by JetBlue Airways and Frontier Airlines.

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