Airlines are adjusting their mask policies to align with a recent government mandate — but in some cases, those policies might be becoming less strict.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, major airlines began instituting their own policies for enforcing the wearing of face masks on their planes. While some airlines have allowed passengers with medical conditions to go mask-free, others mandated that everyone over the age of 2 must wear a mask.
The Centers for Disease Control recently issued an order that went into effect on Monday, requiring all travelers to wear masks while flying. Travelers are also required to wear masks that cover their mouth and nose while at major transportation hubs.
The order, however, exempts some people from having to wear masks, including those with a disability who either physically can’t wear a mask or can’t safely wear a mask "because of the disability as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act." As the CDC notes, however, the Americans With Disabilities Act only allows for a very "narrow exception" in such cases.
In response to the new CDC order, some airlines have adjusted their mask-wearing policies. American Airlines announced a new policy that allows passengers with disabilities to be exempt from wearing masks, provided that they contact the airline’s Special Assistance team at least 72 hours before their flight.
"Exemptions will require documentation from a licensed health care provider, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from COVID-19. Additionally, American will update its guidelines for acceptable mask types to prohibit bandanas and gaiters," the airline wrote.
American's most recent policy, prior to the CDC's order, did not allow for exemptions for "those over 2 years old."
"Our mask requirement has been and will continue to be a critical component of our comprehensive effort to protect the health and well-being of our customers and team members during the pandemic," said David Seymour, Chief Operating Officer at American. "This federal mandate will provide additional support to our crew members who are working diligently to enforce our policy and further reinforce the safety of air travel during COVID-19."
In addition to American Airlines, Alaska Airlines also issued new face-mask policies allowing for medical exemptions. Customers must contact the airline five days before their flight to request an exemption.