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Airlines require face masks and ban alcohol on flights in response to COVID-19

Travelers who violate the new rules may have their flying privileges revoked

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Photo (c) Julia_Sudnitskaya - Getty Images
Did you ever think there would come a time when airlines would require every passenger to wear a mask AND stop selling alcohol? Welcome to the new norm, folks.

One by one, airlines have been drawing new lines in the sand with new coronavirus-related restrictions. For example, United Airlines issued a comprehensive list of mandates last week that included confirmation from passengers that they have not had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the two weeks before the flight they're boarding.

Thanks to Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization representing the leading domestic carriers, airlines will no longer be doing their own thing when it comes to face coverings.

In an all-in move, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines have all agreed on a sweeping, uniform, health mask policy.

Revoked flying privileges

A4A says its entire membership will be “vigorously” enforcing face-covering policies for both passengers and crew. By “vigorously,” the organization means that face coverings will have to cover both the nose and mouth, not just hanging from the ear on an as-needed basis. 

Here’s what airlines and travelers will be expected to do.

  • Preflight Communications: Each airline will inform its individual face-covering policy in all communications with customers (e.g., email and reservation confirmations), which may require passengers to tick a box saying they acknowledge the specific rules during the check-in process.

  • Onboard Announcements: Aboard each flight, crew members will announce details regarding their airline’s face covering policy, including the consequences passengers could face for not adhering to the policy.

  • Consequences for Noncompliance: Rather than a uniform punishment, each carrier will be expected to create the appropriate consequences for passengers who are found to be in noncompliance with the airline’s face covering policy. A4A says the airlines have broad powers in this regard -- “up to and including suspension of flying privileges on that airline.”

American Airlines, for one, says its line on masks is hard and fast; the company says it will deny boarding to customers who don’t comply. Adding an extra dare, American says it may also deny future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering. 

Dry flights

While consumers turned to alcohol to relieve stress caused by COVID-19 and produced a sales boom, the airlines have decided to put their alcoholic beverages under lock and key for the near future, despite what profit might be had.

U.S. airlines like Delta, Southwest, and American, along with European carriers including Easyjet and KLM, and Asia-centric Virgin Australia, are all suspending either some or part of their alcoholic beverage service in response to the coronavirus. If a cocktail is a must, some airlines will have them available in First Class and/or on long-haul international flights. 

The changes may sound drastic, but the airlines can’t run the risk of the added interaction between passengers and crew members. Passengers should also be prepared for limitations on other beverages. As an example, Southwest Airlines and Virgin Australia are serving water only for the time being.

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