JetBlue Airways said the face covering rule will go into effect May 4. Photo by Glenn Fawcett/U.S. Customs and Border Protection | License Photo
April 28 (UPI) -- JetBlue on Tuesday became the first major U.S. airline to announce it will require all passengers to wear face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The airline issued a notice on Twitter stating that all customers must wear a face covering during flights, check-in, boarding and deplaning beginning May 4.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "guidance defines a suitable face covering as an item of cloth that should fit snugly against the side of the face, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric and allow for unrestricted breathing," the airline said.
JetBlue added that small children who are not able to maintain a face covering will be exempt from the requirement.
The airline had already required flight crew members to wear face coverings and since late March has reduced the number of seats available on flights to allow distance between passengers.
During an earnings call on Tuesday, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said the airline is already encouraging passengers to wear face coverings and considering making it mandatory as more people begin to fly amid loosening restrictions.
"I think we're going to find that there's a strong majority of people who aren't comfortable unless everyone around them has a mask on," Kelly said.
Kelly added that Southwest plans to offer passengers personal protection equipment kits as well as hand sanitizer and wipes.
The airline has also limited ticket sales on each flight and said passengers can assume middle seats will remain open, although Kelly said passengers will not be prohibited from sitting in middle seats especially if traveling with family.
Southwest President Thomas Nealon also said the airline will "tactically" cancel about 10 percent of its scheduled flights with few bookings each day.
"It's a lot easier to take capacity out than to put it back in," Nealon said.
Southwest also posted its first operating loss in 11 years, losing $77 million, while revenue fell $915 million.
Kelly said the airline does not expect travel to resume until businesses such as restaurants, theme parks and other destinations reopen.
"They need to have something to be able to do when they get there. So Disney World needs to open back up. Restaurants need to open back up," he said.