United Airlines has updated its customer requirement on the wearing of face masks, to include all airports where the carrier operates worldwide.

All passengers travelling from tomorrow (July 24) will be required to wear a face covering in areas including United customer service counters and kiosks, United Club locations, and United’s gates and baggage claim areas, at over 360 airports.

The airline said that “If customers refuse to comply, they may be refused travel and banned from flying United at least while the mask requirement is in place”.

The carrier says it will also strengthen its mask exemption policy by only excluding children under the age of two.

“If a passenger believes that there are extraordinary circumstances that warrant an exception, they should contact United or speak to a representative at the airport,” said the airline.

Back in May United was the first “major US-based carrier” to require all of its flight attendants to wear face masks when on duty – this requirement was subsequently extended to customers.

There will be airport signage alerting customers to the new requirement, and any passengers seen not wearing a face mask / covering will initially be given a verbal reminder and offered a free mask.

United said that customers refusing to comply will be given a reminder card that outlines the company’s face covering policy, and “continued non-compliance could result in a refusal to transport and the customer could also be banned from flying United at a minimum while the mask requirement is in place”.

There will also be reminders during the flight booking process, and as part of the carrier’s “Ready to Fly” checklist.

Commenting on the news Dr James Merlino, chief clinical transformation officer at Cleveland Clinic – with which United’s face covering policy was created, said:

“United’s extended face mask policy adds another layer of protection for travellers, even before they board an aircraft. Wearing a face mask is an incredibly simple measure that we all can take to help slow the spread of Covid-19.

“They act as a barrier to keep respiratory droplets from entering the air, where someone else could breathe them in and possibly become infected. The more people that wear masks, the less risk there is of others being exposed to the virus.”

United is also “taking steps to limit the overall number of people on board and separate customers wherever possible”.

The airline expects its consolidated average seat factor (the percentage of occupied seats including customers and non-revenue passengers) to be around 45 per cent in July, with less than 15 per cent of flights operating with more than 70 per cent of seats filled.

Where flights are expected to be more than 70 per cent full, the carrier is contacting customers giving them the option to switch to less full flights for no additional fees. But United said that “To date, the overwhelming majority of customers choose to keep their travel plans the same”.