Photo: Monday, April 27, 2020 by Vince Warburton, passengers get off an American Airlines flight airplaneat at Los Angeles International Airport, AP

Associated Press: DALLAS — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said Thursday they will soon require passengers to cover their faces during flights, following the lead of JetBlue Airways.

The move comes as airlines big and small contemplate how to comply with social-distancing recommendations in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Most flights are nearly empty these days — air travel is down 95% from a year ago, and the average domestic flight has 17 passengers, according to industry figures.

But recently passengers have posted photos on social media of crowded planes with many passengers who weren’t covering their faces despite the recommendation by federal health officials to wear a mask when in public to prevent spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

In some cases, airlines created the crowds by cancelling other flights and packing passengers onto fewer planes.

During a three-hour layover at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Vince Warburton noticed a crowd gathering in the gate area before his American Airlines flight to Los Angeles.

“People were laughing at the fact that (gate agents) were encouraging us to social-distance while boarding the plane, and there were so many people in line,” said the 32-year-old video engineer, who was commuting to a job.

This week, JetBlue became the first US airline to announce it will require passengers to wear face coverings during flights, starting next week.