When is a mask simply too much? At United Airlines, a new protective mask that resembles a scuba diving helmet has been deemed more of a threat than a means of protection. Two brothers were thrown off a flight for pushing the issue and insisting that the mask was permissible.
United Airlines Deems New Protective Mask A Danger
United’s mask policy is fairly vague. The requirements are simply:
A face mask with no vents or openings that fully covers their nose and mouth.
Rob Joseph and his brother purchased $85 masks from Narwall that are intended to provide additional protections over more conventional masks. These masks, pictured above, provide more filtration than a N95 mask plus face shield. Although they appear to have an exhaust valve, it is rather just an elaborate filter and not something that emits exhaust and places others in danger.
When the brothers showed up at Newark, they were informed by United staff that the masks were not permitted. They argued a bit, presenting evidence that the masks were within United’s policy and not a danger to others. Eventually, they “compromised” by placing a surgical mask over their Narwall mask.
But when boarding, flight attendants stopped them and said that was an unacceptable solution. After more back-and-forth, Joseph took off his Narwall and put on the surgical mask, but then flight attendants told him he could not even take the Narwall onboard with him.
“At that point they turned to me and said it’s not allowed on the plane, if you’re not happy with our policies, you can leave. I said no, I’m fine, I’m going to go sit down, you don’t have to hear another word from me. At that point they said no, we already told you to leave, get off. That’s when it spiraled out of control.”
United said the mask “could potentially create certain impediments in emergency scenarios, including — but not limited to — communication issues.”
I asked United whether Narwall masks are under review or whether they are indeed permanently banned and was told, “We do not accept the Narwall mask.”
It seems to me there are two factors at play. First, the Narwall mask should be allowed and the idea that it a passenger cannot properly hear flight attendants announcements if wearing one is spurious, especially considering noise-cancelling headphones are permitted at all times on the ground and in the air.
Second, United has the right to set its own mask rules within the framework of the new federal mandate. In short, United can ban Narwall masks if wants too. Whether reasonable or not, Joseph was told several times it was not permitted but continued to argue. If this was unacceptable, he should have cancelled his ticket and flown another carrier (which he eventually did for his return trip).
Masks are (sadly) here to stay and more advanced varieties are hitting the market. United and other airlines would do well to offer clearer rules on which masks are permitted and which ones are not.
(H/T: View from the Wing)