I’m going to call out United Airlines on a technicality, here. United’s website is simply unclear concerning its mask policy for two-year-olds, United overreacted concerning a two-year-old girl who could not keep her mask on, and removing two-year-olds in general remains an unnecessary overreaction to this pandemic.
Mask Debate Aside, United Airlines’ Policy On Masks Is Simply Not Clear For Two-Year-Olds
My position should not come as a surprise…when Southwest Airlines kicked off a two-year-old under similar circumstances, I wrote a story titled, Southwest Airlines Boots Another Two-Year-Old Off Over Mask. Enough. And I get there are two sides to this: those who believe uniform compliance is necessary and those who believe that flying with young children is hard enough already and masks on toddlers do little to protect the health of those around them.
But Southwest’s policy is clear: only “young children under the age of 2” are exempt. That key word is under.
On the other hand, United’s policy states:
All travelers over the age of 2 are required to wear a face covering.
Does “over” not imply greater than? As in, if not over two, you are not required to wear a face covering? We tend to round in years, not months and days. And it’s not like the policy is spelled out more clearly on other parts of the website…the language is always “over the age of 2”. Indeed, that can encompass those over two and those who are still two, but it is undeniably ambiguous language that United should immediately clarify.
So on that basis, the family should have been spared. The whole charade of making the family do the “walk of shame” off the fully-boarded aircraft exposed a lot more people to potential virus than the little girl laying down between her parents for the three-hour flight.
Was she wearing her mask during boarding? That is when enforcement should happen.
I have yet to see cogent, science-based argument that two-year-olds should not be exempted. The family noted that the World Health Organization does not recommend masks for two-year-olds. As I said in the Southwest story:
Look at other airlines around the world: young children don’t have to wear a mask. On Lufthansa, children under six are exempt. On British Airways, children under 11 are exempt. In fact, UK Department of Health strongly discourages face coverings for children under the age of three for health and safety reasons. On Cathay Pacific, children under six are exempt. On Emirates, children under six are exempt.
So again, I think masks are ridiculous on young children, but (and this is a key but), United certainly has the prerogative as a business to require them. However, United should make its policy clear and I simply see its current rule as vague and misleading for two-year-olds.
All that said, I have several observations:
- From the conversation (watch the video above), the crocodile tears and selective editing make me suspicious
- The family was apparently heading to New York City to visit family and friends and go sightseeing…that’s not allowed right now without quarantine and it appears the family had no intention of quarantining
- I suspect the little girl had no advance practice in wearing a mask…the father seems like an anti-masker because of the way his mask falls below his nose and because of his indignation over masks while stating that 99% recover from COVID-19 (though he is correct on that…).
- The gate agent who escorted them off was professional and just doing his job
- I don’t doubt the family has flown United or others before without enforcement…the flight attendants I talk to tell me they are not going to kick a two-year-old off.
- United cannot be faulted for failing to remove their checked baggage, which would have risked delaying all the other passengers onboard.
The family claimed United banned them, but that is not the case. United is reviewing the incident and issued the following statement:
I still deeply question the wisdom in forcing two-year-olds to wear masks. That said, United is welcome to do that. But if it does, its rules need clarification. Now. Until then, two-year-olds are in a gray area. And for parents who need to travel within the USA with young children, consider flying Delta, which has a much looser policy for masks on toddlers.
Was United right, were the parents right, or were both wrong?