The incident occurred a day after Delta's CEO said that passengers who refuse to wear masks will be banned from flying with the airline

Delta plane
Delta airplane
| Credit: NurPhoto/Getty

A Delta flight was forced to return to its gate after two passengers refused to wear masks onboard amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

A spokesperson for the airline told PEOPLE in an email statement that the plane "returned to the gate following two customers who were non-compliant with crew instructions," before adding that the plane departed to its destination "after a short delay."

According to Delta's website, "Delta customers and employees are required to wear a face mask, or appropriate cloth face covering over their nose and mouth throughout their travel, aligning with best practice guidelines from the CDC."

Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
| Credit: MATT CAMPBELL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The incident occurred a day after Delta's CEO Ed Bastian said that passengers who refuse to wear masks will be banned from flying with the airline.

"You cannot board a Delta plane unless you have a mask on,'' Bastian told Today on July 22. "If you board the plane and you insist on not wearing your mask, we will insist that you don't fly Delta into the future."

Bastian added that Delta had already banned more than 100 people from flying because of their refusal to wear masks and the Delta spokesperson did not address whether or not the two passengers who were removed from the Atlanta-bound flight were banned from flying with the airline in the future.

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Delta also previously announced that passengers who claim they are unable to wear masks due to a health condition must be medically cleared at the airport or consider another mode of transit.

"We implemented a new procedure this week because we've had some customers indicate that they have an underlying condition that makes wearing a mask dangerous for them," Bastian said. "We've told them that you may not want to fly, to reconsider whether air travel is the right form of transportation."

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
| Credit: Scott Olson/Getty

The airline's "Clearance-to-Fly" procedure involves a screening conducted with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and STAT-MD, a physician service that provides consulting to airlines, according to Today.

Major U.S. airlines' policies about wearing masks and social distancing on flights vary.

American Airlines asks all passengers except children and those with medical exemptions to wear a mask on planes. And United has said passengers who won't wear a mask may be put on a restricted travel list.

Delta, Southwest, Jet Blue and Alaska have also enacted safe social distancing measures, such as leaving middle seats empty on their flights.

United Airlines never instituted a practice of leaving seats empty to allow for social distancing, while American Airlines has ended their previously instituted limited capacity rules as of July 1, despite the continued surge in new coronavirus cases in the U.S.

To date, there have been 4.6 million cases in the country and 154,000 people have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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