United Airlines now threatens to ban passengers who do not wear masks onboard. But some have called the new policy toothless. Perhaps passive aggressive is the better word.
Yesterday, I wrote about United Airlines’ new onboard mask policy. Passengers will be required to wear masks unless medically unable to do so. For passengers who fail to comply, two warnings will be given and then they will be left alone. There will be no threat of diversions or arrests upon arrival. Instead, flight attendants will file an incident report and then United may or may not move to ban that passenger for an unspecified limit of time.
View from the Wing notes an internal memo to flight attendants which outlines the steps that will be taken for non-compliant passengers.
First Warning: Be Kind
First, passengers will be gently instructed to wear a mask and offered one for free:
“For the first interaction with a customer who is non-compliant with our face covering policy, introduce yourself (first name) and refer to customer by name using the My Flight app – be empathetic, acknowledge and state our policy. Inform the customer that for the health and safety of everyone, face coverings are mandatory for all customers and crew on board. In the event a customer needs a face covering, there is a small supply in the Inflight Customer Kit that may be offered to customers.”
Second Warning: Be Empathetic
If the passenger still refuses, they will be reminded again and be provided a “reminder card” outlining the obligatory mask policy:
“If a customer continues to be non-compliant during your second interaction, use your de-escalation skills, inform the customer again of United’s face covering policy. Empathize, acknowledge and provide the customer with one of the Inflight Face Covering Policy Reminder Cards which can be found in the Inflight Customer Kit (starting later this week) and provides additional information on our policy.
“Don’t be afraid to get another flight attendant involved, and remember, your role is to inform, not enforce compliance. Finally, notify the Flight Deck that you have a customer who is non-compliant with the face covering policy. You may request that the Flight Deck make an announcement over the PA reminding customers of the needed compliance with the policy.”
Third Warning: Ignore Customer
Finally, if a customer does not comply the third time, flight attendants must file the report.
“If the customer continues to refuse to comply with your request, submit an Irregular Operations Report (IOR) as soon as possible upon landing (and no more than 48 hours following the flight) and notify the Flight Deck that you plan to report the customer via this process. Ensure you include the passenger name and seat number, which you confirmed as part of the first step. Your IOR will initiate a review process to determine our company response following the customer’s behavior. No additional interaction with the customer or escalation is necessary. The passenger will be notified of the review process as well as any decision made regarding their ability to fly on United moving forward.”
Note what is missing: an explicit warning from the flight attendant that a passenger may be banned for refusing to wear a mask.
Toothless Or Just Passive Aggressive?
On that basis and due to the medical exception, View from the Wing and others have concluded that this policy is “toothless”. I wouldn’t use that word. First, the “reminder card” will warn customers that they may be banned from flying United if they refuse to wear a mask. Second, what are flight attendants supposed to do? Smack people who refuse to wear masks or order the captain to divert? The last thing we need is more air rage onboard and I view the three-step process as the right mix of diplomacy and tact.
I will concede the policy may be viewed as passive aggressive. I can see a passenger saying, “You mean to tell me that I am now banned from United Airlines for two months and the flight attendant never even mentioned it?”
But this seems like a far better alternative than an escalating verbal argument…you’ve seen the comments on Live and Let’s Fly and all over the internet on masks. Some people are militant about refusing to wear them. I hate wearing masks myself…but I’ll comply with the policy because the minor inconvenience is worthwhile if it gives those around me peace of mind and may slow the spread of virus.
Can you imagine the lawsuits if United throws off passengers who are medically unfit to wear a mask? Yes, just like emotional support animals there will be some who feign health issues to avoid inconvenience. But this policy is geared toward passengers who want to make a point–usually a political point–by not wearing masks. The new policy may be passive aggressive, but I don’t find it to be toothless.