United Airlines expands face mask requirements to airport lounges, ticket counters and baggage claim

United Airlines announced on July 22 that it is extending its face mask requirement from its planes into airports. 

“In addition to on board our aircraft, face masks must be worn at customer service counters and kiosks, United Club locations, gates and baggage claim areas,” the company tweeted on Wednesday. 

According to company policy, all United Airlines customers are currently required to wear face coverings during the entire duration of their flight, except when eating or drinking. 

The company encourages its customers to bring their own facial coverings, but says they will provide them if needed at no extra cost. 

Delta, JetBlue and Southwest already have similar requirements. Most U.S. airlines require passengers other than small children and those with certain health problems to wear a mask during flights, except while eating or drinking.

United also announced this week that it would maximize the airflow volume of its aircraft particulate filtration systems during the boarding and deplaning processes in an attempt to minimize the spread of COVID-19 aboard its flights.

United Airlines claims the filtration process will make the “the air onboard a plane significantly cleaner than what people typically experience in restaurants, grocery stores, schools or even some hospitals.”

The company’s commitment to fighting the spread of coronavirus comes as the nation deals with an ongoing rise in infections. 

Since the onset of the novel coronavirus, air travel in the U.S. plunged about 95% from March 1 until mid-April, then began a slow recovery. The number of U.S. air travelers around the July 4 weekend was the highest since mid-March, but was still down about 70% from a year ago.

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United Airlines executives said Wednesday that travel will rise when the number of new coronavirus cases drops, but the airline's revenue will stall around 50% of pre-pandemic levels until there is a vaccine.

United and other airlines are trying to persuade consumers that air travel is safe. CEO Scott Kirby said that filtration systems and air-flow patterns inside planes make them safer than restaurants, office buildings, “or even a hospital.”

“It really is one of the safest places you can be if you are going to leave your house,” Kirby said.

Passengers have criticized United for booking planes full when it can. American does the same, while Delta, Southwest and JetBlue block some seats to create more space between passengers. United said it limits full flights by substituting larger planes.

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United said its average flight from April through June was 35% full and it estimates the July average will be 45%.
The airline is focused on reducing costs to survive the downturn in travel. The company estimates it will lose $25 million a day during the third quarter, down from $40 million a day in the second quarter.

Labor is the biggest single expense for most airlines, and United last week warned 36,000 employees that they could be furloughed in October. The company said 6,000 have taken severance packages to leave and will be paid through November.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.