American Airlines Pilot Has Pay Docked For Insisting On Masks In The Cockpit

American Airlines passengers have to wear masks throughout their journey – in all areas of the terminal controlled by the airline as well as on board (many airports require masks, too). Cabin crew have to wear masks as well throughout the flight. However pilots are allowed to take off their masks inside the cockpit.

Multiple pilots have reported being taken off of trips, forfeiting pay because they refuse to fly with another crewmember up front who won’t wear a mask.

Pilots going maskless in the cockpit doesn’t appear to be a risk to passengers. I have been unable to find a single instance of documented spread via aerosols from one discrete room to another. (There has been some long range transmission through high rise building toilet sewer lines, but that’s not aerosols from talking or breathing.)

So this really is an issue of pilot safety. It reminds me of late March when flight attendants still risked discipline for wearing a mask, and American said it was because the CDC didn’t recommend mask wearing (which turned out to be a noble lie, so that people wouldn’t compete against government and health care companies acquiring them).

If pilots agree not to wear massk, it seems reasonable not to require them to do so while in the cockpit with the cockpit door closed. However that exemption needs to be very limited, and should only come into play when both pilots ‘turn their key’. They should both have to agree on being maskless. One who wants to go without a mask shouldn’t be able to impose that on the other.

And before you head into the comments that no business should require employees to wear face masks, consider:

In any case, a pilot shouldn’t have to decide between flying a plane and increasing their potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

Update: American Airlines offers the following statement,

Our pilots, like all American Airlines team members, are required to monitor their health daily and stay home if they aren’t feeling well. Our team member face covering policy, which is consistent with our customer policy, adds an additional layer of protection. If any pilot on the Flight Deck believes a face covering interferes with their ability to safely operate the aircraft, they may choose to not wear it. This policy is in full compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO). Additionally, we worked closely with the Allied Pilots Association to establish this policy for pilots on the Flight Deck.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. At American Airlines, most pilots believe in “safety first.” Currently, there is a pilot shortage. Older, more experienced American Airlines pilots are significantly more likely to die from a SARS-CoV-2 infection. I think it is unfair that American Airlines pilots must risk their lives and be mandated by corporate policy to fly without a face mask while on the flight deck or forfeit their pay. When a pilot gets a COVID infection, the entire flight crew also has a higher likelihood of disease and spreading a deadly COVID infection to all passengers.

  2. If they are unable to do the job without needing a diaper strapped to their face, then they are probably not adequately sane enough to fly a plane.

  3. Airlines (including American) have a provision for pilots (typically First Officers) to opt out from being asked to work with a (so-called ‘Do Not Pair With’) list of pilots (typically Captains) they prefer not to work with. This seems like a clear case of “Do Not Pair With’ mask-deniers. And rightly so.

  4. @Ken. Then those older pilots should take the early out offered by AA. By doing so, they’ll likely save a more junior pilots job and they won’t die of the rona. Its getting a bit silly. 95% survival over 65 years old, 99% survival under 65 years old. Yes, I know every life is precious and we should do everything to save even one life. 40,000 people die on our highways every year. If we were to drop the speed limit to 10 mph, most if not all of those people will live. Let’s save a life! Look, there are risks everywhere, if 60 year old pilots are that afraid, they have a lucrative option.

  5. @CHRIS, using 40,000 people as a percentage gives around 0.012% of the population of the US dying annually, so a 99% survival rate implies 3,300,000 people dying, as that is 1% of 330,000,000, ignoring the 5% of over 65s. In 2016, there were 49.2 million over 65s in the US, a 5% fatality rate implies 2.46 million deaths in over 65s alone… whether or not that seems excessive or probable in the wider population is up for debate but that is just using the numbers you gave. So in comparison the 40,000 suddenly seems less shocking compared to millions. Now I am not predicting millions will die, to be clear, as govts and people are acting to limit exposure but I just want to point out it’s easy to say only 1% will die but when that translates to 3.3 million in the US suddenly it seems more real.

    @lorie, do you honestly believe wearing a mask impacts a pilot’s ability to fly a plane? I’ll tell you I wore a mask during my recent simulator check doing emergencies, which require a lot more concentration and effort than standard line flights, and passed so hate to tell you but we might just be better trained than that.

  6. As an airline pilot for over a decade, I can tell you my concern with a face mask in the cockpit is in the event of a loss of cabin pressure or smoke in the cockpit. The “quick don” mask we use in that emergency has to be quickly deployed and on your face. The FAA requirement for mask certification is 5 seconds. And in an emergency such as a decompression, you may only have seconds to put your mask on before you go unconscious. Since there is not study that I’m aware of researching the effects of using a mask with a quick don oxygen mask, I have to defer to my judgement. In my professional opinion, I do not want to be fumbling with a face mask in a time critical emergency, or find out the hard way that the covid face mask prevents my quick don oxygen mask from sealing to my face reducing the effectiveness of my emergency equipment. This is also a reason why pilots in most countries and most airlines are not permitted to wear a beard. It’s a matter of life and death in my opinion. If we loose consciousness, the whole plane with all of the passengers on board as well as people on the ground are in danger of being killed. Or one or two guys gets Covid. Take your pick.

  7. 100% mask wearing in public is effective in containing spread of the virus. I agree with those above that cite known mortality figures for COVID as being 1-2%, that much is true. And while mortality risk is certainly higher in elderly and chronically sick patients, I’ve seen several otherwise healthy 30-40 y/o patients dying from COVID (I’m an in-hospital critical care physician working with COVID patients on respiratory failure since January).

    The real problem with refusing to wear a mask in public places is that by exercising your right to choose, YOU are exposing the people around you against their will. Yes dear anti-maskers, the mask you are asked to wear is NOT to protect you against the virus, but rather to protect everyone else around you from getting infected by YOU. The mask other people wear protect YOU against getting infected by any of them.

    It is known that patients who get infected by COVID are able to spread it days before the development of any symptom, that’s the rational for universal masking and distancing in public spaces. But this public health strategy (nothing political about the choice to wear a mask) only works with the adoption of 100% masking or as close to that goal as possible.

    Therefore by making a personal choice NOT to wear a mask in public, you are NOT exercising the right to take your chances with COVID, but rather taking away everyone else right to safeguard themselves against it.

  8. I came here to say that employers absolutely have the right to require masks for their employees as a condition of employment.

    Then I read the description above about quick don O2 on the flight deck, and this ardent mask supporter is on board with not permitting masks to be work while the cockpit door is closed. At least when I’m part of the cargo. And until a study is performed to demonstrate the safety of face masks and quick don supplemental oxygen masks.

  9. Being a pilot for a major carrier I can honestly tell you wearing a mask is ABSOLUTELY a safety issue. As an employee I am required to wear a mask on company property, in the airport, on the van to and from the airport, in the jetway and on the aircraft (when not on the flightdeck).
    And I comply. I will not wear a mask on the flight deck. YOUR safety is the reason why. Masks are hard to communicate with in a somewhat noisy environment. The last thing you want to hear your pilot say during a critical phase of flight is, “what did you say?”. You really need to look no further than emergency situations though. Imagine you’re cruising along at 41000 feet. You experience a rapid decompression. The already noisy cockpit gets even louder, the air is foggy from the instant loss of air pressure, the air is literally sucked from your lungs and you have about 15 seconds of useful consciousness at that altitude with no pressure oxygen. SECONDS are life and death in this scenerio. Pilots cannot even have facial hair because it degrades the seal our flightdeck O2 masks create. Now…..imagine having to REMEMBER “I have a mask on….I need to remove it before I put on this O2 mask” in the stress of an emergency situation where literally seconds count. Do you really want me wearing that mask? If we both pass out you’re dead. It’s that simple. It’s like not wearing your seat belt and arguing you’ll put it on right before the accident. It’s the reason the FAA hasn’t mandated that we wear masks…….safety of flight. Good for that pilot for standing up for safety. I wouldn’t have flown with him either.

  10. This article is partisan as the author does not discuss ANY of the risks associated with operating an aircraft while wearing a mask. The risk of wearing a mask while performing these risks should be weighed against the negligible risk of contracting Covid-19 from another pilot while operating the aircraft. A tube of aluminum under 8-9 psi moves around air dramatically different than where most of us live and interact at 0-1 psi. Please do your research before you turn absolute mask wearage as the end all be all. We need more critical thinking and LESS ideology. Facts are that pilots aren’t giving each other Covid 19 in the cockpit. But the facts be damned… right?

  11. Some of you commenting here are unrivaled morons and idiots. That you dont think there should be protection in the cockpit at that!

  12. If you are an older pilot getting into a cockpit and your young co-pilot insists on going maskless then you really have to ask yourself where else isn’t this person wearing a mask? Its rather absurd that they are actively forcing pilots to fly with people who refuse to wear masks. The risk is soo much more in the enclosed area of the flight deck. Simply look at the white house to understand how easily it spreads. Honestly if there is a pilot who can’t safely operate a plane while wearing a basic face mask then I don’t want a pilot like that flying the plane I am on!

  13. It’s truly pathetic that some of these mask zealots are willing to endanger a plane load of people (and those on the ground below it) out of sheer ignorance and mania.

    Please read the experts who have posted above.

  14. Sorry but all the studies up to October 2019 debunked anyone or any current study about masks and controlling a virus. Do the real research it is out there. And for the death rate scare tactics in this country, the death rate is .07% of the American public even with the over rated numbers of positive cases. I’ll take my chances with death on that percentage and not wear a diaper or condom on my face. And no I’m not killing anyone either. Do you tell people to stop drinking alcohol at a bar or restaurant cause they could kill someone, your more likely to die from a drunk driver or car accident than covid-19. So to all the mask police please stop telling everyone else what to do. Hide in your basement and wait for a vaccine or whatever else the media is telling you will fix covid-19. It obvious that the flu vaccine has worked so well, that the flu numbers keep going up year after year.
    Last- h1n1, MERS, SARS had higher death rates and we’re more contagious than covid-19. But we didn’t inflict this social and economic distruction during thoes viruses.

  15. Well I’m very two-faced about this. But I feel especially Qualified to speak to this. I am an international captain with American Airlines with 37 years Of seniority. I insist well in the general population that myself and everyone around me comply with the mask mandate. When I am required to ride in the passenger cabin rather for myself or for the company business I wear a mask 100% of the time. But while on duty I do not and do not require either of my first officers wear a mask. We always have a conversation as most people do before we get into the airplane, and work out many different issues. Many policies concerning COVID-19 our work in process considered the best policy for the time.. In the cockpit environment, especially on long-haul flights, the distraction, As well as the interference with communications and emergency procedures makes wearing a mask hey Vinny very in efficient and possibly Dangerous answer to handling the epidemic and the airline and history.We are not using a mask because were too good for it, Or exercising some form of privilege it is a well thought out Strategy being used by aviation professional swift dealt with several situations from epidemics to terrorism in a multitude of items that the public has been patronized with. Without trying to sound arrogant, we know what we’re doing and we’re making the choices that work, keep the airplanes moving, but never at the expense of safety for ourselves or anyone else. So far,I have never been paired with a crew that has had a different view, although I’m sure there’s a few that are out there. As a whole, I think we agree and even though there are outliers. We are operating safely and correctly. Even though I would like to see testing, rapid testing at the beginning and end of each sequence. This would serve a real purpose, Because I don’t wanna play with someone who is Covid positive with or without it both of us using a mask. It’s totally unacceptable.
    .

  16. 2 sets of rules on AA aircraft, nothing new. They aren’t number 8 for nothing. And yup I picked up covid probably on a AA flight where we were all wearing masks.

    So if there is a decompression those of us in the cabin have to take off or masks too. Atleast we can keep our facial hair.

  17. Ah, another click bait Gary Leff post. There is an actual scientific reason for not wearing a covid mask in an an airplane cockpit as cited above by some very qualified pilots unlike a purported, hoped for reason to wear one in general public.

  18. @Pablo Not to sound harsh, but would you rather the pilots pass out from a lack of cabin pressure or the passengers? Think about it. Once the pilots save your arse and get the plane down to a safe altitude where everyone can breathe, you’ll be thankful a face mask wasn’t in the way.

  19. We’re in a deadly PANDEMIC–wear the damn mask and stop sulking like a spoiled brat–or ignorant-ass potus!

  20. And DLM, since we both agree we are in a deadly PANDEMIC, tell those people to get off the streets protesting and rioting with no social distancing. Or are there two sets of medical recommendations regarding social distancing – one for common people and one protestors, rioters and looters?

  21. Wow that’s awful. Fly Delta. They are taking covid seriously. I am telling my parents to avoid American Airlines if they have to fly.

  22. “The Real Reason For Airline Pilots Not Masking Up”

    LAZINESS & PEER PRESSURE

    Been wearing a mask on the 73N flight deck throughout the pandemic, 70-80 hours a month. No problem with communications, boom mic tucks under mask. There is a sunglass/reader non fogging sweet spot to be found with every mask. If you are not sharp enough to pull the mask off before placing the quick don O2 mask over your head you probably shouldn’t have a 1st class medical.

    Like every other challenging thing in life, over time you get use to it.

    Toughen up and do the right thing.

  23. I am a Captain flying for a international airline on a wide body aircraft. The reason I do not wear a mask is that it causes glasses to fog up impeding vision. Regardless if it is distant vision impairing landing, spotting traffic or near vision impairing completing paperwork in route or reading an emergency check list, it prevents the job from getting done correctly. The solution is for airlines to require all crew members get a rapid result COVID test prior to each trip. This would give some measure of safety to fellow crew members. Then the problem is the false positives. This conflict has caused issues at several airlines and I am certain it will continue just as the different opinions about the issue will continue until the pandemic abates.

  24. I have an honest question as the wife of an AA pilot. My husband got the call yesterday that the FO on his last flight has tested COVID positive. I asked my husband if they were wearing masks and for the safety reasons listed by many of you, they were not. He doesn’t plan to wear a mask in the future either.
    My question is this: what do pilots do when returning from a trip to ensure the safety of their family in terms of COVID? I’m very concerned about my husband infecting me or our five children, but him quarantining after each trip would basically be the equivalent to him moving out. This is a tough one.

  25. I’m a hospital based RN I’m aware of a number of staff in various hospitals that were infected with covid 19 due to community spread in the break room. I work with my pod and trust them but NONE of us eats together in the break room. And we’ve all been vaccinated.

  26. Pure BS!

    Wear a mask that fits right and the glasses thing is a non issue.
    O2 mask can be donned in less 2 seconds. Not that hard really.
    Never had a communication issue.

    Pure politics. If wearing masks were dangerous the FAA would prohibit it.
    They don’t.

    Save your coworkers and families lives. Wear your mask!
    Pilots are supposed to have good judgement, show it.

    Pull me off the flight without pay and I WILL lawyer up.

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