United mandates masks for flight attendants, unions want passengers included

April 23 (Reuters) - All United Airlines flight attendants must wear a face covering or mask while on duty starting April 24, it said on Thursday, in the first such rule by a major U.S. carrier.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), whose members work for United Airlines Holdings Inc and 19 other carriers, welcomed the move but urged Washington to require passengers to wear masks as well.

In an April 23 letter seen by Reuters, AFA President Sara Nelson asked the departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services to mandate masks for crew, employees and passengers; require personal protective equipment; and end all leisure travel until the coronavirus pandemic is contained.

United’s move reflects airlines’ evolving stance on masks for crew members as coronavirus outbreaks have spread across the world. Initially flight attendants were only allowed to wear masks on international flights to coronavirus hotspots.

U.S. pilot unions’ representatives have been meeting with members of Congress to seek legislation to protect against the spread of coronavirus on airplanes, union officials said on Thursday.

“Flight crews are a unique vector for the virus, traveling all over the country. It is vital that our crews be treated as essential workers and have access to personal protection equipment and testing,” said Jason Goldberg, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association that represents American Airlines Group Inc pilots.

Major U.S. airlines have drastically scaled back flying schedules as demand has plummeted but they continue to operate domestic flights and a handful of international routes.

On Monday, Canada started requiring passengers to wear a non-medical mask or face covering during the boarding process and flights. (Reporting by Tracy Rucinski and David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang)