Airline Stops Use of Face Masks After Passengers Couldn't See Crew's Smiles

An airline decided Tuesday to stop the use of face masks after passengers complained that they could not see crew members smiling.

"Many Garuda customers have complained about the flight attendants wearing masks, as [the passengers] cannot see whether or not the [flight attendants] are smiling or frowning," Irfan Setiaputra, president director and chief executive officer at Garuda Indonesia, said in a virtual discussion on the decision to replace masks with face shields.

"With this, human interaction on the plane can still occur, although minimized, and everyone can feel safe but also comfortable," Setiaputra said.

Mitra Piranti, the airline's corporate secretary, told The Jakarta Post that a timeline for when the changes will be implemented has yet to be decided on.

"We continually evaluate the appropriateness and safety of the protective equipment for our flight crews in terms of prevailing flight safety regulations, while also looking to provide an excellent service," Piranti said.

Newsweek reached out to Garuda Indonesia for comment but did not hear back before publication.

The national airline resumed flight operations May 6 following the imposing of restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. On June 8, the Ministry of Transportation increased the number of passengers allowed per flight to 70 percent of a plane's capacity, up from 50 percent.

There are still restrictions on foreign travelers to Indonesia, while domestic travelers are free to fly without restrictions, although all persons wishing to board a Garuda flight must present a health certificate that demonstrates they are not infected with of the virus. The health certificate must be either from a rapid test taken within three days of travel or a PCR swab test taken within seven days.

The pandemic has severely affected air travel in Indonesia. The number of domestic passengers in April was down over 85 percent from last year, while the number of international passengers was down more than 98 percent, according to Statistics Indonesia.

Air travelers choosing not to fly because of coronavirus fears is an issue worldwide. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Tuesday its research showed that only 45 percent of air travelers would feel comfortable flying after the virus and COVID-19 are no longer seen as a threat.

Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the IATA, said in a June 9 press release that this year "will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation," noting that every day will add an average of $230 million in losses to the industry.

Garuda Indonesia Flight
A Garuda Indonesia plane lands in Hong Kong on August 1, 2018. The airline will replace on board face masks with face shields after passengers complained they could not see crew members smiling. Getty/Marcio Rodrigo Machado/S3 Studio