By Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson
(Reuters) – With the largest U.S. airlines now set to mandate – and provide – facial coverings for all passengers over the next two weeks, many are turning their focus to other measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus during air travel.
United Airlines Holdings Inc., for example, told journalists on Friday that it has purchased hundreds of hospital-type electrostatic fogging machines that it will start using in June to decontaminate airplane cabin surfaces and crevices before every flight.
The measures are among the steps airlines are taking to help passengers feel more comfortable about flying in the midst of the pandemic, which has decimated travel demand.
The industry, through lobby Airlines for America, has also begun discussions with policymakers in Washington on measures such as virus testing and pre-boarding temperature checks, United Chief Communications Officer Josh Earnest said.
Southwest Airlines Co and Alaska Airlines on Friday joined other major airlines in imposing facial coverings.
JetBlue Airways Corp <JBLU.O> was the first to mandate such a policy, and on Thursday United, Delta Air Lines Inc. American Airlines Group Inc and low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines, which is owned by private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC, followed suit.
The largest airlines provide masks for passengers who do not have their own facial covering. United noted that recent supply issues with masks have now eased.
The requirements are being made by airlines on an individual basis and will be included in the contracts of carriage and explained on their websites. They are not mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has said that it only has the authority to regulate matters that are directly tied to air safety.
Asked how airlines would enforce the policy, United’s Earnest said: “We’re gonna ask customers to comply with the requirement.”
Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, applauded the airlines’ “common-sense measure” on Friday while calling on the U.S. government to “provide clear and consistent policies that reflect the seriousness of this global pandemic.”
Airlines have also made face coverings mandatory for employees.
In Canada, regulators started requiring that passengers wear a non-medical mask or face covering during the boarding process and flights last month, and the European Commission has said that it is working on a set of rules for the safe reopening of air travel.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)