Alaska Airlines to use UV light to fight COVID-19 as passengers raise other concerns

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Airlines are working to attract passengers back to air travel, including adding new UV light cleaning technology and working to get all travelers to wear masks.

But the moves come as airlines like American Airlines announced they will no longer be blocking off middle seats to provide passengers with more social distance. Delta Air Lines has said it will discontinue sales of middle seats until September 30.

Tiffany Fetters, a sales manager for a medical sales company, has to travel for work. She recently flew to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport during her first trip since the coronavirus pandemic surged and said she saw four out of nine people in first class not wearing masks on her Alaska Airlines flight.

Fetters told KIRO-TV that the people seated in front of her were leaning back to talk to the person across the aisle from her. None of them, she said, were wearing a mask.

She said she asked a flight attendant if masks are mandatory.

“I politely asked, ‘Hey, aren’t they mandatory?’ and the look in his eyes was, ‘I can’t make them do anything,‘” she told KIRO-TV.

Alaska Airlines released guidelines last month requiring travelers to wear face coverings throughout the airport and flights. The airline said it would provide supplies for travelers who didn’t bring masks.

“We rely heavily on our guests doing the right thing for the greater good of everyone onboard our flights,” Alaska Airlines said a statement Friday. “When faced with a situation of non-compliance, our flight attendants use their training to help guide them on how to respond and to learn more about why a guest is not wearing a mask or face covering. We’re evaluating other methods to ensure compliance, and working with our unions on the best ways to do that.”

The airline has been touting its steps to protect passengers from COVID-19, including upgraded cleaning policies and, as of June 30, requiring customers to agree during check-in to bring and wear a mask during the flight. It is now testing new UV light technology from Honeywell.

“This is the first product that’s actually specifically designed using what’s been used in hospitals for decades, which is UV light,” Honeywell Aerospace General Manager Brian Wenig said. “UV light has been proven effective for many years on reducing other types of viruses. There are no studies available as of yet on the COVID.”

Alaska Airlines is blocking off all middle seats on large aircraft and aisle seats on smaller aircraft through July 31.

American Airlines will begin booking flights to capacity, including middle seats, starting July 1. It will be notifying customers and allowing them to move to more open flights when available, without cost.

American Airlines is also enforcing its mask policy. Airline officials took a man off a flight earlier this month and banned him for refusing to wear one.

Tiffany Fetters said she’d like to see flight attendants with Alaska Airlines do the same.

“The part that I think really infuriated me, and I know it infuriated the flight attendant, is at the very end, one of the gentlemen stands up and pulls a mask out of his pocket -- to put it on to leave the plane,” she said.

At this point, there is no law on masks while flying. The Federal Aviation Administration has declined requests by airlines and their labor unions to make masks mandatory.