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Alaska Airlines says it may deny future travel to passengers who refuse to wear a mask

Alaska Airlines employees Sachi Kwon, left, and Mary Graham help a customer at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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Alaska Airlines announced Tuesday that any passenger who repeatedly refuses to comply with the airline’s mandatory mask policy while on board could have their future travel suspended.

Flight attendants are now able to issue a warning, in the form of a yellow card, that means the passenger’s travel will be reviewed and “could be suspended for a period,” the airline said in a statement. “It’s a decision that would not be made lightly.”

Tim Thompson, a spokesman for Alaska Airlines, said in an email that flight attendants would be able to use their own judgment to decide how to respond in cases of non-compliance.

“Our flight attendants will approach guests who aren’t wearing a mask to learn more about their circumstances,” he said.

Alaska Airlines has required passengers to wear masks or face coverings since May 11.

But enforcement of COVID-19 health and safety policies has been difficult for some airlines. And while Alaska Airlines’ previously released guidelines stated that passengers who refused to wear a mask could be refused boarding, flight attendants had not, until now, been given authority to hand out warnings.

A blog post on the airline’s website further explained why officials felt stricter enforcement was needed.

“Overwhelmingly, those who fly with us understand and appreciate the importance of wearing masks,” the blog post said.

But there are also times when “our flight crews encounter moments when some travelers disregard or disobey our mask requirement. It creates tension and anxiety for many of our passengers who do have their face coverings on. So, a change is needed.”

At least two other major airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have announced policies saying that passengers who refuse to wear masks may no longer be allowed to fly with them.

Beginning Tuesday, Alaska Airlines passengers will be asked at check-in “to sign off on a required health agreement to acknowledge and attest to their willingness to adhere to the mask policy.”

Masks will also be available upon request for passengers who forget theirs. Adjusting a mask while eating or drinking on board is OK, the airline said.

Exceptions to the mask requirement will be made for “children under age 2; anyone with a medical issue that creates trouble breathing; anyone who cannot remove a mask without assistance; or anyone with a disability that prevents wearing a mask.”

“We realize a piece of fabric across your nose and mouth is probably not your ideal way to travel,” the blog post said. “But if we all take that small step while flying, we’ll be better off in the long run.”

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