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News >  Pacific NW

Washington airports get new virus protection rules

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 24, 2020

An Alaska Airlines plane lands at Paine Field near Boeing's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle.  (Ted S. Warren)
An Alaska Airlines plane lands at Paine Field near Boeing's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle. (Ted S. Warren)

OLYMPIA – Travelers using Washington airports will be required to wear face coverings in most areas and observe rules for distancing from other passengers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Airports will also be putting up signs to mark the spacing passengers should follow, provide hand sanitizing stations, erect barriers between workers and travelers in some areas and follow disinfecting rules for “high-touch” areas under new standards announced Thursday.

Gov. Jay Inslee said the state is instituting the new rules after trying unsuccessfully to get federal agencies to issue similar standards.

“These are baseline requirements that we are rolling out,” he said during a news conference with executives for Alaska Airlines and Delta, two of the largest air carriers in the state.

Todd Woodard, marketing director of the Spokane International Airport, said the West Plains facility supports Inslee’s call for national standards, adding that it has been doing all of the things mentioned in the new state requirements for months.

The standards are part of an effort to convince more people it is safe to fly.

Max Tidwell, vice president of safety and security for Alaska Airlines, said the pandemic “has fundamentally changed the travel experience.”

The airline is taking what he called a layered approach to restore customer confidence, which includes leaving middle seats empty on its flights, increased cleaning and air filters that are more than 99% effective. It also has a “no mask, no travel” policy on planes.

“If we cannot gain compliance, when they land the rest of their trip is canceled, we refund and we welcome them back when a mask is no longer required,” Tidwell said.

Delta has a similar policy, Tony Goncho, the airline’s vice president for Seattle, said. “If you refuse to (wear a mask) you’ll be put on a no-fly list.”

Airlines can’t share their lists of banned passengers because of legal restrictions, they said, but most airlines have the same standards so eventually a person will have to comply if they want to get home.

As a further precaution, Delta flight crews have rapid COVID-19 tests available prior to their flights, Goncho said.

SeaTac is exploring the ability to offer rapid testing to increase consumer confidence in air travel, said Lance Lyttle, managing director of aviation for the Port of Seattle, which operates the airport.

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