CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Southwest Airlines said on Wednesday it was eliminating all exemptions from its face-covering requirement except for children under 2 years old, in the toughest policy yet among U.S. airlines.
American Airlines Group Inc followed suit with a similar order later on Wednesday.
Until now most airlines have exempted passengers with medical conditions, though United Airlines and Delta Air Lines require that any conditions be cleared before flying.
But Southwest, whose mandate goes into effect July 27, will no longer allow medical or disability exemptions, saying that if someone is unable to wear a face covering for any reason, it “regrets that we will be unable to transport the individual.”
Passengers can remove their coverings to eat, drink or take medicine, but Southwest said it expects those instances “to be very brief.”
American Airlines Group Inc said its order, effective July 29, would require that all passengers over the age of 2 wear face coverings at airports and on board.
The orders come as more governors are requiring residents to wear masks at nearly all times outside their homes.
United’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, told investors Wednesday that coronavirus-hit demand could improve thanks to lessons learned about preventing the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks.
Airlines, which are grappling with demand that has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic, say hospital-grade air filtration systems coupled with face masks and better cleaning make air travel safe.
Southwest also said it is rolling out a thermal screening trial at its homebase airport, Dallas Love Field, to respond to the pandemic.
Major U.S. airlines have been unsuccessful to date in convincing the Trump administration to back temperature testing for airline passengers.
Questions remain about what would happen if someone was turned away from a flight and what agency would be responsible.
Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Sherpardson; Additional reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Leslie Adler