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American, Southwest end face mask medical exceptions; Delta expands testing

United Airlines is telling customers who believe they warrant a mask exemption to bring it up before boarding.

DALLAS — Delta Air Lines will provide at-home coronavirus tests for some employees, while Southwest and American will tighten their rules on face masks by ending exceptions for medical reasons. 

“We’re simply seeing too many exceptions to the (mask) policy, it has put our flight crews in a really tough spot and also made our customers pretty uncomfortable," Southwest Airlines President Tom Nealon said Thursday.

Those moves come as airlines try to reassure passengers and their own employees about safety during a pandemic that has made many people afraid to fly.

Delta said it will expand coronavirus testing at its hub airports and provide at-home tests for employees in Florida and Texas — states that have seen a surge of virus infections and deaths in recent weeks. Reservations agents who don't work at hubs will also get at-home tests, the airline said.

Delta has been testing employees at its Atlanta headquarters and so-called hub airports and expects to have tested all U.S. employees within the next four weeks.

This week, Delta began requiring passengers who claimed a medical exception to the face-mask rule to go through new screening — a phone call with a staffer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

RELATED: Southwest Airlines says no exceptions to facemask requirement

RELATED: Delta passengers seeking mask exemption to be required to take pre-flight evaluation

Southwest and American Airlines will go further next week by banning passengers who claim that a medical condition prevents them from wearing a mask. The airlines said only children under 2 will be exempt from the requirement.

“Customers and team members have been clear that they feel more safe when everyone is wearing a face covering," said Alison Taylor, American's chief customer officer.

United announced similar updates Wednesday, saying that only children under 2 would be exempt from the mask rule. But it said if a passenger believes they warrant an exemption, they need to contact United first or talk to a customer service agent at the airport.

Once onboard, passengers are expected to follow the policy.

"Customers who refuse to comply with the onboard policy could be refused travel and banned from flying United at least while the mask requirement is in place," United said.

Airlines say passengers will still be allowed to remove the mask to eat or drink. Southwest said it expects passengers to put their face covering back on as soon as possible.

Some people have complained that fellow passengers flout the rules and airlines don’t enforce them.

Major U.S. airlines have extended their face-mask rules to ticket counters, baggage claim and other areas inside airports, and they threaten to ban violators from future flights. Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, said his company has taken action against more than 100 passengers.

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