Two brothers were kicked off a United Airlines flight departing Newark on January 23 because they were wearing too much personal protective equipment, not too little. Usually we hear about anti-maskers. And Dr. Fauci even recommends wearing two masks. But United wasn’t having any of the masks these passengers wore.
“Is it goofy? Absolutely. Is it something you want to be seen in public? Not exactly,” said Joseph, who was traveling for work because his company is helping with security for the Super Bowl. “But to have that peace of mind for me and my family, I’m willing to take some stares to get down there safely.”
Several United employees stopped them before their 11 a.m. departure to Florida, and offered them cheap surgical-style masks. To mollify the airline they put these masks over their Narwall masks. A flight attendant stopped them on the jetway. They wanted the protection of their masks, and were at a standstill. They were kicked off the flight.
Their carry on bags were gate checked on the full flight (United has never beleived in seat blocking during the pandemic). They were forced to wait 7 hours for the next flight.
The airline, for its part, says the mask has a vent which isn’t acceptable – although passengers are permitted to wear surgical masks over vented masks, which is what was ultimately happening here. And the manufacturer explains there’s no vent in any case.
“Narwall was specifically designed to filter all exhale, to have no vents, to have no direct exhaust valve, which of course would endanger the people around the wearer potentially,” Rattray said. “I had the idea to put a super high-grade filter to filter your exhale and your inhale to keep you and everyone safe.”
A United spokesperson also says “there’s concerns about hearing impairment with a mask like that,” the passengers might not be able to hear instructions in the event of an emergency, which strikes me as post-hoc justification.
The brothers “he inquired with other airlines about whether his mask would be an acceptable face covering and rebooked his return flight home” on a different carrier.
United, like several other carriers, has policies not just on what you have to wear but also on what you cannot wear, although these policies are often not widely published. Alaska Airlines kicked off a 75 year old passenger with a terminal illness over too much personal protective equipment. American Airlines bans body tents and 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…