Mask policies at AMC theaters, American Airlines stoke furor over public health
The coronavirus pandemic, and President Donald Trump’s response to it, have put corporate chiefs in an uncomfortable position: Deciding on mask-wearing policies for staffers and customers has become seen as a political choice.
American Airlines Group Inc. on Thursday removed conservative activist Brandon Straka from a flight because he wouldn’t wear a mask, banning him from future flights until face coverings are no longer required. Straka leads the #WalkAway movement of former Democrats who now support Trump, who has at times mocked rivals for wearing masks and generally declines to sport one in public himself.
AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. waded into the same hot water Thursday, when Chief Executive Officer Adam Aron defended the movie-theater chain’s decision not to require patrons to wear masks when its cinemas reopen next month.
“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Aron said in an interview with the entertainment publication Variety. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary.”
Each company took flak on Twitter over its decision, from opposite directions. “If masks are optional at AMC theaters, I’ll have to cancel my membership,” one member of the chain’s loyalty program tweeted. A supporter of Straka posted a list of past pandemics in which masks weren’t generally worn, saying they’re being pushed now “for fear and panic.”
The Trump administration’s own official health guidelines encourage wearing a mask whenever a person is within 6 feet of others, as facial coverings reduce the spread of respiratory droplets that carry the coronavirus. Yet what seems like simple medical advice runs up against the kind of strong beliefs Aron cited, at a fraught political moment for the U.S.
The controversy shows no signs of diminishing as positions on either side harden. Several municipal and county officials requiring masks in their localities are at odds with Republican state governors. Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, on Thursday issued new guidelines requiring masks in most public situations.