Delta has banned 120 passengers for refusing to wear face masks

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(CBS NEWS) – Air travel is getting bumpier for travelers who decline to wear face masks. Delta Air Lines has put 120 passengers on its no-fly list after they refused to comply with the carrier’s requirement to don a mask while aboard one of its flights.

“Countless studies and medical experts have advised us that masks are an essential response to the virus that will help us reduce transmission,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian told employees Thursday in an internal memo obtained by CBS News. “That’s why we’re taking it very seriously. We’ve already banned 120 flyers from future travel with Delta for refusing to wear masks on board.”

The crackdown comes as the U.S. crosses a grim milestone, topping 4 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 143,000 deaths.

Atlanta-based Delta is also expanding its COVID-19 testing program to cover its entire workforce over the next four weeks. That will include at-home screening for employees, starting with those who live in two virus hotspots, Florida and Texas.

“By testing 100% of our people, we’re establishing a baseline that helps us make critical decisions to protect everyone’s health and safety – our employees and our customers,” Bastian wrote. 

The infection rate among Delta’s customer-facing employees is below the national average, indicating the carrier’s efforts “are working,” the CEO said.

Delta earlier this week stipulated that passengers asking for a mask exemption would have to undergo a medical screening by phone before being allowed to board. The airline also said it would bar any passengers making up false medical excuses to elude the mask requirement.

Other carriers are also stiffening their virus procedures. United Airlines on Wednesday expanded its requirements for wearing masks, saying that as of Friday travelers must wear facial coverings inside all airports where the carrier operates as well as on flights. People who flout the policy risk being removed from the plane and banned from flying for at least the duration of the mask requirement, it said.

American Airlines last month banned conservative activist Brandon Straka from future flights after booting him off a jet from La Guardia Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth for refusing to wear a mask, it said

Most major U.S. airlines now require masks to be worn on flights, but until recently enforcement has been spotty. 

CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave contributed to this report.

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