by Joanna Bailey | September 29, 2020
WestJet was the first Canadian airline to introduce no exemption mask rules, using a yellow card system to warn fliers about noncompliance. Chief Operating Officer of WestJet, Jeff Martin, revealed last week that, so far, only 90 incidents have occurred, with just 11 passengers being added to the no-fly list.
WestJet’s unusual mask policy
Although airports, airlines and regulators had been touting mask-wearing as an essential part of travel during the pandemic, there remained various ways to wriggle out of it. For airlines, there were very little teeth in the corporate policy to help them enforce mask-wearing in flight.
For WestJet, the answer was simple. The airline introduced a no-tolerance policy. You either wear a mask, or you simply don’t fly. Chief Operating Officer of WestJet, Jeff Martin, spoke at the World Aviation Festival last week about the airline’s thinking behind the decision. He said,
“Under the banner of being first, we made a decision at the executive team, effective September 1, we went with mandatory, no-tolerance. We had to go out to all the employees and say, this is going to put you in a very awkward position, but we want to protect you. We want to protect the guests.”
While WestJet was first in Canada to spring for a ‘no excuses’ mask policy, other airlines have been similarly hardline in their stance. Alaska removed all exemptions in August, Southwest in July, and the US big three just before that. While enforcing masks was nothing new, the way WestJet implemented the requirement was amusingly left-field. Martin explained,
“We went with a yellow card, red card scenario. So, if somebody is not complying, we hand them a yellow card. They read the directions – it says, ‘look you’re non-compliant, please put your mask on’. If you don’t, we hand you the red card, which basically says it’s your last chance. If you don’t then, you will now be placed on a no-fly list.”
It seems WestJet took its inspiration from Alaska, who introduced a similar system in early August. While some airlines have struggled to get passengers to comply, it seems WestJet’s passengers have been relatively well-behaved.
Only 11 on the no-fly list
Since airlines have got tough on mask-wearing, there have been numerous horror stories of crews having to battle passengers to get them to comply. Flights have been delayed, passengers removed, and complaints made.
In just a few weeks from the start of its no-exemption mask rule, Delta had added around 240 people to its no-fly list. Indeed, across the United States, some 700 passengers have already been banned from flying for breaching mask-wearing policies. At WestJet, things are somewhat different. Martin said,
“Since September 1, we’ve had 90 events, and we’ve had to place 11 people on our no-fly list.”
That’s a pretty good compliance rate by anyone standards, although the WestJet COO said it’s not always been easy.Advertisement:
“It’s tough being the mask policeman. We didn’t want that role, but we will do anything to protect guests and employees.”
The WestJet COO believes that the answer to unlocking travel is quick pre-flight testing. Until then, he says it will maintain its mask policy in a bid to keep everyone safe.