A group of airline pilots has sued the federal government, claiming that face masks don’t stop Covid and demanding an end to the mask mandate on US flights.
Pilots from jetBlue, Southwest, American Airlines, and PSA, a regional carrier owned by American, filed the suit in Washington, DC, federal court on Tuesday, arguing that the Biden administration didn’t follow the science or proper administrative procedure when it introduce the travel mask mandate in January 2021.
“When it comes to masks, due diligence wasn’t performed to assess the effects on our physical and mental health,” Cristina Field, a PSA Airlines pilot, told the travel site PaddleYouOwnKanoo, which reported the news of the lawsuit. “I perform risk/benefit analysis daily as part of my job, and I know the risks of wearing a mask outweigh any benefits. We want to make sure the forced wearing of masks goes away, never to return.”
In addition to a more technical legal argument, the lawsuit claims, going against the overwhelming scientific consensus, that masks themselves are harmful and don’t stop the spread of coronavirus. Rather, the action claims, they produce “mask fatigue,” hypoxia, laryngitis, physical exhaustion, depression, and claustrophobia, in wearers.
The CDC and other federal authorities “ignored countless scientific and medical studies and articles showing that face masks are totally ineffective in reducing coronavirus spread but are harmful to human health in at least 68 ways” the lawsuit claims.
The Independent has reached out to the CDC jetBlue, Southwest, and American for comment.
Public health authorities maintain that masks are a key tool to stop the spread of infectious disease, and even before the pandemic, health care workers wore tight-fitting N95 masks for hours on end, without evidence of any real risks to their health.
Most major US airlines introduced mask mandates internally at the start of the pandemic, well before the Biden administration joined them, and some air employee unions pushed for such policies.
According to federal data, more than 70 per cent of the reports of unruly passenger behaviour on US flights last year related to disputes over masks.
Air industry leaders have offered more mixed support for mask mandates.
During testimony before Congress in December, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly and American Airlines CEO Doug Parker argued high-quality air filtration inside of airplanes is more influential than masks inside the cabin.
“Yeah, I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much if anything in the air cabin environment,” Mr Kelly said, noting Southwest’s partnership with Stanford University on forming its medical policies. “It is very safe, and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”
“I concur,” added Mr Parker. “The aircraft is the safest place you can be. It’s true of all of our aircraft, they all have these HEPA filters and the same airflow.”
Earlier this month, the federal mask mandate was extended until 18 April, though the CDC appears to be preparing to modify or lift it in the months going forward.
The agency recently said that it’s working with government agencies to “help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor.”
Industry groups have pushed to lift the mask mandate.
“The travel industry continues to be challenged with a slow economic recovery even with improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements, especially in the business and international travel segments,” the US Travel Association told CNBC last week. “The Biden administration can help to normalize travel conditions in their April 18 framework by repealing both the pre-departure testing requirement for vaccinated international inbound air travelers and the federal mask mandate.”