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American Airlines will require customers to wear face masks starting May 11, joining Delta and JetBlue

An American Airlines plane. (Dreamstime/TNS)

American Airlines will require customers to wear face masks starting May 11, joining Delta and JetBlue in the move to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus that’s devastated the airline industry.

Airlines are under increasing pressure from worker unions to force passengers to cover their faces while flying. American’s decision comes just days after requiring its flight attendants to wear face coverings provided by the airline.

For customers, American said it will have some masks available but admitted it’s still difficult to find personal protective gear. The airline also will start handing out sanitizing wipes and gels to passengers.

“With masks, it is a logistical issue of getting inventories to the right place, but we have sufficient quantities for our team,” said American Airlines president Robert Isom in a call with reporters and analysts Thursday. “It will take a number of weeks, but it’s not an issue of months at this point.”

Both the Allied Pilots Association and Association of Professional Flight Attendants that represent more than 40,000 American crew members have been pushing for customers to wear face masks on planes.

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The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents flight attendants at American’s regional carrier Envoy, has been pushing not only to require passengers to wear face masks, but to limit air travel to essential employees.

The CDC has recommended that anyone traveling outside their homes should wear face masks around other people to slow the spread of COVID-19, although there is little research into how well face masks prevent wearers from exposure to harmful air droplets.

Fort Worth-headquartered American said customers can bring their own face coverings.

“Requiring a face covering is one more way we can protect those on our aircraft,” said a statement from Kurt Stache, senior vice president of customer experience for American.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is the only major carrier not yet to require crew members to wear face masks. But executives said Tuesday that they are working on a policy to make them mandatory with customer-facing employees.

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© 2020 The Dallas Morning News