Terminal 75 Year Old Kicked Off Flight For Wearing Too Much Personal Protective Equipment

A 75 year old woman with terminal lung disease was heading to Seattle on Alaska Airlines – but was kicked off of her flight at the Fairbanks, Alaska airport over face mask rules.

She wore an N95 mask and a face shield during boarding. But once she settled into her seat she replaced those with a respirator helmet. That’s when an Alaska Airlines employee approached her and told her she couldn’t wear the helmet, despite her lung fibrosis.

They offered her a low grade mask to wear, not realizing that she had an N95. An argument ensued over whether the helmet was safer than the blue mask. Here’s what she looked like on board:

A supervisor came on board and demanded she got off the plane to continue the discussion. She says by that point she’d “removed her helmet and put the N95 and visor back on” which should have made her eligible to fly, but the airline determined she was a risk for the flight. (She insists that the N95 mask didn’t have a valve so she was complying with mask rules at this point.)

Ferguson says a couple of Alaska Airlines workers grabbed her carry-on bags and escorted her off the airplane. She says she was met at the gate by an airport police officer, who forcefully escorted her to the ticket counter. She says an Alaska Airlines ticket agent offered to book another flight in two hours, if she calmed down. But she refused, and left the airport.

She claims she was bruised as she dragged off the plane. Police carried her luggage to the terminal entrance. Authorities claim she was “uncooperative and disruptive.” Alaska Airlines refunded her ticket.

Alaska, like several other carriers, has a policy against masks with ventilation ports. Those protect the wearer, but doesn’t protect other passengers from the wearer. American Airlines has told me that it’s fine to wear a mask with valve if you wear a cloth mask over it.

While U.S. airlines generally require passengers to wear face masks, it’s not uncommon to also see policies against too much personal protective equipment. For instance American Airlines bans passengers from wearing face or body tents or pods, personal air purifiers and ozone generators.


Body Pod in Delta First Class, Credit: Under The Weather

Rather than banning extra protective gear I wonder if an airline might promote safety and generate ancillary revenue at the same time if they sold these items themselves. Then again, like a movie theater, they might still wish to ban customers from bringing their own in order to prevent lower cost competition for sales. I’m old enough to remember when it was against airline rules to use your own headphones to watch the inflight movie…

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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Comments

  1. Isn’t the actual concern that if there is a depressurization, a passenger won’t be able to fit the oxygen mask over their respirator? Of course the passenger could just be in the bathroom in a depressurization and they won’t have access to an oxygen mask either.

    I guess airlines could start to rent out hazmat suits with their own oxygen supply lines (not available on basic economy tickets).

  2. @Sandbagger2

    That’s a Bingo! The concern is for rapid cabin depressurization, you only have a few seconds of useful consciousness to get your O2 mask before you pass out from hypoxia!

  3. 1. She wasn’t kicked off “for having too much protective gear”. The title is intentionally misleading.
    2. Her expensive mask has an exhalation vent. That type of mask is great for the *her* but bad for everyone around (if she were sick).
    3. Airlines have been making it clear that anybody that won’t follow the rules will need to leave the plane. She choose to argue with airline staff. **She** made the choice to argue. I see people put a mask on when they are told and it is off again 3 minutes later. The airline understands this woman would possibly or probably behave the same way.

  4. Alaska Airlines has also had issues with my JustAir mask, despite it being several times better than an N95 mask for filtration. They have no specific rules against it, but their flight attendants made me switch to my regular cloth mask.

  5. She took off the respirator & put on the N95 mask & face shield. There should not have been a problem. All could have been avoided with professional staff. Too many ignorant untrained flight attendants that incite problems that could be handled with some training.
    What’s worse is the passengers that board with a mask on then take off for the entire flight. Happens all the time & no one says anything.

  6. In general, too many people think of mask wearing as something to protect themselves. I totally understand her wanting to protect herself and it’s possible that airline staff were not good at explaining the why of the airline’s policies to the woman, but my hunch is that they started to explain, she freaked out, and the opportunity for a rational conversation evaporated.

  7. I would bet that 99.9% of the time any flight experienced an inflight emergency that required oxygen masks to be deployed…experienced fliers wouldn’t start ordering party favors from the flight magazine. They’d instead do what experienced fliers do…start helping fellow passengers who displayed confusion. Give us some credit.

  8. A 75 year old with a terminal condition shouldn’t be flying during a pandemic. It makes absolutely no sense for airlines to be saying young kids with very little risk of dying of the virus to not be flying during the pandemic if their parents can’t get them to wear masks but then encourage old grandmas who are at high risk of dying to fly. We seem to be protecting those at low risk more than those at high risk.

  9. I get the point about if you are wearing a helmet like device, it might take you longer to put on your O2 mask. However, given the probability on any specific flight that one would need to put on an O2 mask; I think they are taking it too far. In other words, not just for this incident, the airlines take too far the slight risk of something happening to justify an individual bad outcome. What are the chances of a pax flying in the USA to have to put on their O2 mask on any given flight? I like that the O2 masks are there, but given the low risk profile of having to use one, then having an adverse outcome based on the slight possibility of the low risk event doesn’t make sense. I would think you are less likely to have to put on your O2 mask than the chances you will drown in your bathtub at home. Or how much or less likely are you to have to put on your O2 mask vs. the risk profile you will be struck by lightning or struck by lightning twice? I think the country as a whole puts these safety risks too high. In other words if there is a conflict between an immediate adverse outcome (example this lady tossed from the flight) vs. strict adhereance to a safety related paradigm based on a theoretical bad outcome; I think you should strongly take in to account the lack of risk of the theoretical bad outcome (the decompression in this case). Especially if the adhereance to the theoretical risk creates an adverse outcome (tossing this pax). That said I tend to be pretty risk tollerant in many things as opposed to risk averse. Some of you may be more risk averse than risk tollerant so it might just be a different approach in life.

  10. Alaska Airlines made a sound decision for the greater good and knowing it could be spun as a negative. When you consider standard precautions, we assume all persons have Covid-19 or any number of other infectious diseases. Out of an abundance of caution, and with consideration for fellow passengers, we cover our mouths and nose to help minimize aerosols from escaping while we breathe and talk. We wear masks to protect others while gaining some protection for ourselves. Masks with ventilation valves provide comfort for the wearer while allowing aerosols to escape into the environment. Why didn’t she wear the helmet while boarding? If this report is correct, she declined the mask offered and donned a KN95 mask with a ventilation valve. She failed to comply with twice. Let’s hope she appreciates the safety concern and measures the flight crew acted on for all lives onboard.

  11. Something not right about the story. I’m in the medical field and I don’t know of any lung doctor that would have a terminally ill lung patient get on an airplane with a respiratory virus Global pandemic, to come for a consultation.

  12. I have an 3m N100 mask with an exhaust port that opens when you exhale and vents directly downward. I have to put a surgical mask over this because of the valve?
    Your exhalation breath is going somewhere no matter what type of mask you wear.
    It’s a fantasy your aerosolized breath isn’t escaping every mask–otherwise you’d be poisoning yourself with CO2,and 3m gives a detailed explanation of fluid dynamics and how droplets would likely propagate on the exhalation valve.

    Whoever came up with this policy was likely not considering sophisticated N95’s and N100’s and I realize the airline has to create a policy to conform to the lowest common denominator.

    That being said N95 and N100 masks are not intended to be used when the oxygen concentration is below 18+% per 3M, so wearing them in a plane pressurized to 6 to 8k feet above sea level could be problematic to the wearer who is not in good cardio shape.

    All good arguments arguing against going to the trouble of flying long distances

    It seems

    Contras

  13. Kudos to Ellen Law’s reply. Exactly my thoughts. I live in Anchorage and have flown a million miles plus with Alaska. The issue was over once the lady took off the respirator and put on the mask. At that point this should have been a non issue. Another example of the lack of common sense shown by airline personnel. Now there will most likely be a law suit and I am sure the ADA folks will be involved. Poor decision making by airline personnel. Surprised as Alaska usually does not have these kind of issues.

  14. Exactly, in a pressurized cabin, wearing an N95 mask or a firefighters mask as seen in the photo would be problematic for a healthy person, let alone someone with health problems…. Plus the firefighters mask has valves.
    We’re missing a lot from this story, but please stop assuming the flight attendants are poorly trained. They are there to save your life, so cut them some slack. They are limited as to what they can do with someone who doesn’t seem to be complying with instructions or seems too ill to fly. If the aircraft is still on the ground, they are always going to get the passenger off to the gate. Much easier to deal with them there than have a medical emergency in the air and have to divert.

  15. Society needs to make up its mind. One second everyone is paranoid about contracting Covid-19 so much so that it has become mandatory to wear a mask in public & social distance. You can even potentially face a fine or be charged for not wearing a mask or for not social distancing yourself. The next second an airline is kicking an elderly lady suffering from a terminal lung disease off a flight for wearing TOO MUCH PPE that the airline doesn’t think is safe enough due to a valve & even when she complies they STILL kick her off?!?! I promise you the only reason they constantly do this (kick a customer off a flight despite the customer doing what is asked of them & complying w/ airline rules & policies) is because they don’t wanna back down & go back on their word. They need to have the last word & the last laugh. I sometimes wonder what is even the point of them asking customers to do something if they’re not going to allow them to fly even after they’ve complied. I swear it’s just a power move.

  16. MIND YOUR BUSINESS. If you’re from ALASKA, you know many people HAVE to fly out of state for healthcare – pandemic or not. If she was in that state of health, I’m sure her doctor covered the bases of getting her a COVID test before flying.

  17. I see stories like this all the time… It doesn’t matter if you think your mask is safer than what the airline requires, just wear a mask that complies with their rules! Why is it so hard for some people?!

  18. This was a puzzling story because the photograph in the newspaper article seemed to show an uncovered exhalation valve.

    The story also seems to suggest that the passenger changed to an appropriate mask when asked (N95+surgical or similar) and was kicked off nevertheless, which is odd. The airline was quoted saying the passenger was combative, so an odd story.

    Although I have started using a 3M FF 402 with particulate filter cartridges in some daily situations where I was previously using a grody old disposable N95+cloth mask, I’ve also slapped a basic cloth mask over the exit valve of the 3M respirator as a basic courtesy to others. And I’d be totally happy to switch to N95+mask if an airline asked (my sense is they’re generally not on board with the bulkier respirators for safety reasons such as not being able to tell whether there’s an exit valve, supplementary oxygen issues, etc).

  19. Had she taken the time to address the issue at the gate in advance she could have avoided all the hassle that donning the alien gear which no one was familiar with created. Big girl panties and taking some responsibility would have avoided a hassle for all concerned.

  20. Wes, she was headed to a medical appointment, and soon enough these airlines will be sued into oblivion for interfering with medical care. The entire concept of “well, such people shouldn’t fly” is wrong on many levels. As for others commenting on valves and what not, her mask is of far higher quality than this theatric garbage being peddled as necessary.

  21. Extreme and unsettling for all involved. I certainly believe that this particular situation should have been handled In favor of the passenger. She definitely has a chronic respiratory Failure. Oxygen supplementation is definitely life savings.and the airlines
    should be more definitive.

  22. Every employee even the cops that had anything to do with this deserves to loose their jobs and denied their separation benefits. From what the news is reporting about Alaska Airlines they with a little luck will be out of business soon anyway and personally I’m glad to see them go horrible airline with a horrible safety record

  23. My pain doctor tried same stuff. I had on n95 mask under so was still protecting others. I told them if I can not be sure I am protected by covering my face not to expect me back.

  24. I take it from these comments most of these people have not flown recently.
    All this about Masks and too much protection or too little, but as soon as the Airlines can make money from snacks and drinks in air the masks come off. Flights still packed. Talk about hypocrisy. My wife was just told she couldn’t wear her KN95 with a filter and was given a mask made from basically tee shirt material. Safety first ?

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