Delta Air Lines passengers who say they need a medical exemption from wearing a face covering on flights due to the coronavirus will now be required to undergo a private medical consultation by phone, at the airport.
Major U.S. airlines are all requiring face masks while on board, unless passengers are young children or if the passenger has health conditions or disabilities that prevent them from wearing one.
On the section of its website regarding face masks, Delta says those who cannot wear masks should be prepared to complete what is called a "Clearance-to-Fly" process at the airport.
USA Today and ABC News report this involves a virtual, private consultation with STAT-MD. That is Delta's partner for in-flight emergency consultations. It is based at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. As of July the requirement will stay in effect until at least December 31, 2020, a Delta spokesperson said.
Documentation is not expressly required as part of STAT-MD phone consultation.
Delta said in a statement, "Medical research tells us that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to reduce the COVID-19 infection rate. That’s why Delta remains committed to requiring customers and employees to wear a mask or face covering as a consistent layer of protection across all Delta touchpoints.
"We encourage customers who are prevented from wearing a mask due to a health condition to reconsider travel. If they decide to travel, they will be welcome to fly upon completing a virtual consultation prior to departure at the airport to ensure everyone’s safety, because nothing is more important.”
STAT-MD's website says among its regular services is a "Fitness to Fly Evaluation" that can identify passenger issues before takeoff.
"Fitness to fly recommendations can also be provided for potential public health issues. These services help ensure compliance with public health regulatory regulations and increased passenger and crew safety," the website says.
Delta is encouraging passengers to arrive an additional extra hour early so that they have extra time to do the phone consultation and determine if they indeed cannot fly with a mask on. Once an evaluation determines a passenger cannot wear a mask for health reasons, the airline may notate this detail on the passenger's record, but passengers may have to complete the evaluation again on future trips, as determined by the airline.
Delta says the airline is expecting passengers to wear a mask from the time they arrive inside the airport, until they depart in their destination city, except when eating and drinking.
"Any false claims of a disability or health condition to obtain an exemption from wearing a mask or face covering may result in the suspension of travel privileges on any Delta flight for the duration of the mask/face covering requirement," Delta says on its website.
Delta notes that face shields may be used in addition to face masks, but are not a suitable replacement.
Several airlines have said customers who refuse to wear a mask will be put on a suspended traveler list until the restrictions are lifted.