United requiring all flight attendants to wear face coverings or masks

Apr 23, 2020

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Earlier this month, United Airlines shared a video featuring a repatriation flight, bringing Australians home from San Francisco to Melbourne. The flight took place after the Centers for Disease Control initially recommended wearing “cloth face coverings in public settings,” so I was surprised to see that although most of the passengers had their faces covered, not a single flight attendant appeared to be doing so.

Fortunately, the airline has since reversed course, and is even leading the way when it comes to this important protective measure. As of tomorrow, April 24, all United flight attendants will be required to wear a face covering or mask while on duty — either a surgical mask, which the airline will provide, or an employee’s own cloth mask. JetBlue has asked flight attendants to wear face masks in public as well.

In a note to employees, United acknowledges that it may not always be possible for flight attendants to cover their faces, for example, “during taxi, takeoff, landing, or crew rest, you may need to remove your mask to perform your responsibilities (e.g. making an announcement). In decompression situations, you will need to remove your face covering and don an oxygen mask.”

United will board surgical masks for each flight attendant, though the airline asks that crew members only take one for each work day, and carry theirs along to a connecting flight. Additionally, N95 masks are available, but “should only be used for customers showing symptoms and for the flight attendants providing direct assistance.”

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While face masks can give the wearer a false sense of security, United acknowledges that “wearing a face covering alone will not prevent you from getting sick.” The airline recommends the following additional precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home while you are sick
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • If you use a tissue, discard it right away and wash your hands
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces

As with other U.S. carriers, United is also taking extra steps to sanitize aircraft, including using electrostatic sprayers on wide-body aircraft arriving from international aircraft, with additional measures following flights that carried a passenger or crew member exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.

United’s move comes on the same day that the Association of Flight Attendants — the world’s largest flight attendant union that also represents United’s attendants — asked the government to “mandate” the use of masks for flight crews and passengers.

“Since flight attendant ability to practice social distancing is challenging in the aircraft cabin and on most other forms of public transportation, it is essential that we wear masks as often as possible so long as COVID-19 remains a threat to public health,” AFA president Sara Nelson said in a letter to both Department of Transportation secretary Elaine Chao and Department of Health Human Services secretary Alex Azar. “In addition, passengers on all modes of public transport should be encouraged to wear masks in the short term and mandated by emergency regulation as soon as practicable.”

Featured photo courtesy of United Airlines.

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