A member of a ground crew walks past American Airlines planes parked at the gate during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 5, 2020.

Joshua Roberts | Reuters

Airlines stepped up policies Monday to ensure passengers and employees wear face masks on board amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

Starting May 4, all JetBlue Airways passengers will be required to wear a face covering, the strictest policy so far in the U.S. and one that follows the New York-based airline’s requirement that flight attendants wear a mask or face covering while on duty.

“Wearing a face covering isn’t about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting those around you,” said JetBlue’s President Joanna Geraghty. “This is the new flying etiquette.”

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines earlier Monday said they will require thousands of employees to wear face masks and provide masks for passengers.

Airline labor unions have repeatedly demanded stronger protections against coronavirus. While air travel in the U.S. is down some 95% from a year ago because of the virus and stay-at-home orders around the world, flight crews have raised concerns about catching the virus on the job and have sought federally mandated procedures.

American said next month it will start handing out face masks and sanitizing wipes for passengers and require that its roughly 30,000 mainline and regional flight attendants wear masks while on duty.

Fort Worth, Texas-based American is also going to step up cleaning procedures to disinfect areas including tray tables, seat belt buckles, window shares and seat-back screens, galleys, jump seats and surfaces in the cockpit.

“Our team members on the frontline are truly going above and beyond during this time,” said Kurt Stache, American’s senior vice president of customer experience. “Their commitment is nothing short of incredible and we will continue to work with them to make sure they have the equipment they need to feel safe.”

Delta said it will require employees to wear masks or face coverings any time it’s impossible to keep a distance of six feet between themselves and a customer or another employee, starting on Tuesday and through June 30 “at which time we will reevaluate and update as necessary.”

“We are strongly encouraging our customers to wear masks and will make them available at ticket counters, gates and onboard airplanes,” four Delta officials said in a staff memo, which was seen by CNBC.

United Airlines last week started mandating masks or other face coverings for flight attendants, following similar moves by JetBlue Airways and budget carrier Frontier Airlines.


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Airlines urge passengers to wear masks on board