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:
- “face masks reduce the daily growth rate of reported infections by around 40%.”
- British researchers found that everyone wearing 50% effective masks is enough to slow the spread of the virus (even homemade masks may be more than 50% effective, but people should wear better masks than that).
- People wearing masks are more mindful about distancing which can be tough enough to do in a cockpit.
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.