Every seat was filled on an Allegiant Air flight last week out of Punta Gorda.

That's the way it appeared to Mary Scharringhausen as she squeezed onto the crowded flight.

A full flight may be good news for Allegiant revenues, but it was bad news for Scharringhausen. The promised mask kits were not around during boarding, she said. Flight attendants handed them out after boarding. When Scharringhausen noticed people not wearing masks, she asked flight attendants who told her masks were not required.

Most people were wearing masks, she said, but about 30% did not.

Handing out masks after boarding appears to have been a mistake, according to Allegiant spokeswoman Sonya Padgett. But making masks optional is indeed Allegiant's policy.

It appears to be the only major domestic airline where masks are not required to board a flight. In other countries, company rules are even stricter. Emirates in United Arab Emirates runs the rapid virus test on all passengers before boarding.

A review of websites of seven major U.S. airlines shows that all require masks. That includes American, Delta, United, Spirit, Jet Blue, Southwest and Frontier. 

"We find that most customers who are concerned about wearing a mask during their flight are already using one before they board," Padgett said. "Even though most people show up with their own PPE, they appreciate receiving the extra supplies we provide."

Scharringhausen was one of those concerned passengers.

"So upset about this," she wrote in her email to the Sun. "They waited until everyone was in their seat and luggage put away before doing this ... germs flying around a totally packed plane with no social distancing and many people not wearing any protection."

On hearing this, Padgett said, "That doesn't sound right. Handing out the health and safety kits is a new process for us and, as with any new process, there's a bit of a learning curve. We'll share this anecdote with our inflight department, and they'll follow up with the crew."

Numbers are increasing for passengers taking flights out of Punta Gorda, Miller said. The airport anticipates 80% load factor by February 2021.

Air travelers nationwide dropped to near zero in late March and April as the pandemic spread across the country. To keep airlines from bankruptcy, Congress authorized bailout funds for the industry, and required airlines to maintain their flight routes and their employees.

Airlines have impressive in-flight infection control, experts are saying. Joseph Allen, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told the Washington Post that airline ventilation systems are as good or better than hospital isolation rooms for patients with coronavirus.

Still, he is advising airlines to mandate masks during the coronavirus pandemic.


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