By Alison Sider 

Face masks are becoming a must-have travel accessory for those still flying during the coronavirus pandemic.

JetBlue Airways Corp. will require customers to wear masks starting May 4.

"This is the new flying etiquette," Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue's president and chief operating officer said in a statement.

Under the new policy, travelers will have to wear coverings over their noses and mouths during check-in, boarding, while in flight and during deplaning. JetBlue also encouraged passengers to wear face coverings in the airport.

American Airlines Group Inc. said Monday that it would start handing out face masks as passengers board, beginning in early May. American said the protective gear won't be available on every flight right away but plans to expand the offering.

"We are looking out for our customers' well-being to give them peace of mind while they travel with us," Kurt Stache, American's senior vice president of customer experience, said in a statement.

Delta Air Lines Inc. told employees in a message Monday that it would "strongly encourage" customers to wear masks and would make them available at ticket counters, gates and onboard.

Travel restrictions, stay-home orders and fear of infection have weighed heavily on air travel. Demand has shrunk to a sliver of what it was before the coronavirus pandemic hit, with passenger volumes down over 95%. Domestic flights are just 12.5% full on average, according to Airlines for America, an industry trade group. Many take off with just a handful of people onboard.

But carriers are starting to grapple with the question of how to get passengers comfortable with the idea of boarding a plane again. They have implemented measures to keep people apart: preventing passengers from booking seats next to one another or limiting the number of available middle seats, changing boarding procedures, and eliminating food and beverage service.

Several carriers have started requiring flight attendants to wear masks. Delta and American both said Monday that they would start requiring employees, including flight attendants, to wear face coverings in certain circumstances, joining JetBlue and United Airlines Holdings Inc.

Unions that represent flight attendants have been advocating for broader requirements for travelers to cover their faces.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D, Tenn.) wrote to Transportation and Health Department officials Monday, saying that social distancing at 6 feet on an airplane would be difficult. "But we know that masks are one of the most effective tools to mitigate people's risk of exposure when those around them are also wearing masks," he wrote.

Write to Alison Sider at alison.sider@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 27, 2020 22:15 ET (02:15 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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