Why Allegiant should correct its peculiar face covering policy

Aug 25, 2020

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One of the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is by wearing a mask.

That’s why we’ve seen every major U.S. airline introduce mask requirements. If you’re planning to fly during the pandemic, you’ll need to keep your face covered from the beginning to the end of your travel journey.

Though every carrier has a mask requirement, the details differ based on the airline. Absent a federally mandated mask requirement, airlines are free to create their own exemptions and exclusions.

Over the past few weeks and months, most airlines have matched — and frequently outdone — each other’s policies. But there’s one airline whose policy is at odds with CDC guidelines, and that’s Allegiant Air.

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Allegiant requires all passengers to wear face masks during all phases of travel. The only exemption is for children under the age of two, as well as passengers with documented disabilities or medical conditions. Allegiant threatens to bar travelers from travel should they choose not to wear a face covering.

Allegiant COVID-19 clean kit. (Photo courtesy of Allegiant Air)

On the surface, this complies with the latest CDC guidance. However, there’s a giant loophole.

Per Allegiant’s policy, you are allowed to wear a face shield instead of a mask. This was confirmed by an airline spokesperson and appears on the carrier’s website.

This means that you can satisfy the mask requirement with a shield that’s much less effective at preventing the spread of the virus. According to the CDC,

A face shield is primarily used for eye protection for the person wearing it. At this time, it is not known what level of protection a face shield provides to people nearby from the spray of respiratory droplets from the wearer. There is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for source control. Therefore, CDC does not currently recommend use of face shields as a substitute for masks.

As such, Allegiant’s policy of allowing you to wear a face shield instead of a mask contradicts the CDC guidance. We reached out to Allegiant to understand how their policy makes sense relative to the guidelines and will update this story when we hear back. An airline spokesperson did let us know that it is rare to see passengers using face shields.

Related: TPG’s 9 favorite face masks and where to buy them

Allegiant’s policy is even at odds with those of the airports it operates from. At its hub in Las Vegas, travelers must wear a mask throughout the terminal, according to Directive 024 by the Nevada Medical Advisory Team. Only those who have medical conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks can substitute a face shield. Otherwise, “medical advisors recommend face shields be accompanied by cloth face coverings, where medically possible.”

Face shield and face mask (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

In my experience, face shields have recently increased in popularity. TPG’s Summer Hull wore both a mask and a face shield on her recent flights, and I noticed many passengers doing the same on my trip last week to California and during recent visits to LaGuardia Airport. Doubling up certainly doesn’t hurt you, but just wearing a face shield isn’t what health officials recommend.

Allegiant is the only major U.S. airline to allow face shields instead of masks. Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United all require a face covering that fits snugly over the nose and mouth. Face shields are optional and can be worn in addition to a suitable mask.

Related: The US airline that now has the strictest mask policy may surprise you

With that, Allegiant’s policy seems lax compared to its ultra-low-cost carrier peers. Both Frontier and Spirit have some of the strictest mask policies in the country. Neither allow medical exceptions and have a list of exclusions to accepted face coverings.

Enforcing the mask policy is another issue in and of itself. Flight attendants are already busy with other responsibilities and gate agents can only monitor what mask a passenger wears while boarding. Though it may be hard for a flight attendant to police the mask requirement during flight, it shouldn’t be too much work for the crew to walk around the plane and spot passengers not wearing any mask.

Hopefully, Allegiant works quickly to remove the face shield loophole and get its face-covering policy in line with CDC recommendations.

Featured photo courtesy of Allegiant

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