Non-medical face coverings, including masks, bandanas, scarves and t-shirts that cover one's mouth and nose, have now become a staple in many Americans' wardrobes per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance that they be worn in public places where social distancing is not possible.
They are also now a requirement for passengers who wish to fly on virtually every major airline, in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Carriers American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said Thursday they will soon require passengers to cover their faces during flights, after JetBlue Airways first announced it would start making the requirement of its customers.
Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Southwest Airlines and even regional carrier Cape Air, known for its fleet of 9-seat Cessnas to destinations like Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, have also announced that all travelers will soon be required to wear face coverings at check-in, in gate areas, on-board and while deplaning aircrafts.
"Face coverings or masks will be required for customers starting May 11," Southwest announced Friday. "If you forget your mask at home, one will be available for you."
Alaska Airlines said likewise Friday. Beginning May 11, fliers are responsible for bringing their own masks, according to its announcement, but the airline will have a supply on hand for anyone who forgets. Face masks will be required for the airline's employees, including pilots, flight attendants and customer service agents who aren't able to distance themselves from others, beginning May 4.
"In light of COVID-19, we're in a new era of air travel," said Max Tidwell, Alaska Airlines' vice president of safety. "For now, this includes wearing masks, which is another layer of protection that can reduce the spread of the virus."
Industry-wide mask requirements could help ease leery travelers' concerns about the safety of being packed into a plane with strangers — and help boost battered airlines' revenues.
Major U.S. airlines report that even after slashing the numbers of departures, remaining flights are, on average, just 15% full. But filling seats is critical to airlines' profitability: They don't typically make money unless they're more than 66% full, according to CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave. Major airlines have cut capacity by up to 90% to cope with a roughly 97% slide in customer demand for flights, he noted.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said he was initially hesitant about the face-covering mandate, out of concern for crew members who are responsible for enforcing the airline's policies.
"We want to be careful about putting our team in the position of being police on that," Parker told the Associated Press. "What we're hoping instead is that virtually all customers will choose for their own protection and out of respect for others on the airplane to wear a mask in flight."
The major carriers' new policies come after the Association of Flight Attendants called for the protective measure to extend to all airlines' customers, not just employees.
Sara Nelson, the president of the union, expressed appreciation for the new safety mandates.
"We're getting there! @Delta and @AmericanAir join @JetBlue and @FlyFrontier in requiring masks for everyone! #StopTheSpread," she tweeted Thursday.
Flight attendant Christina Simonin expressed relief, too: "I'm so happy. This seriously makes my day! I want to work, but I don't want to brig this virus home to my family."