JetBlue, Southwest and American pilots sue over mask mandate

A group of 10 pilots from various US airlines are suing the CDC over the federal mask mandate. The suit claims that medical evidence has shown the face coverings to be unnecessary and ineffective.

Lawsuit over mask mandate extension

The pilots are from JetBlue, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines and took the CDC to court following the recent extension of the mask mandate. The group has called the law an “illegal and unconstitutional exercise of executive authority” and have claimed that the CDC have ignored the “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.”

mask mandate could cause health risks according to suit
The suit is claiming that masks could pose health risks to airline staff | © Travel Concepts

The pilots say that the CDC issued its transportation mask order in February 2021 “without providing public notice or soliciting comment”. The mandate was initially due to be lifted in May 2021 but has since seen several extensions. The latest extension was announced last week, keeping the law in place until 18 April 2022. The plaintiffs are asking that the mandate be lifted.

The drive of the case seemed to be based around the “numerous medical deficiencies” caused by wearing a mask, though increased passenger violence has also been cited as an issue. The suit claims this can be a danger to pilots who are forced to wear masks during their flights:

“Extended wearing of a mask, which has become a part of routine life, has led to the emergence of ‘mask fatigue’. Mask fatigue is defined as the lack of energy that accompanies, and/or follows prolonged wearing of a mask.”

Unruly passengers

The pilots have also asked the CDC to consider the vast increase in unruly passenger behaviour that has occurred as a result of the mandate. Last year the FAA reported a “disturbing” rise in passenger incidents, with over 5,981 cases of unruly passenger behaviour reported in 2021. Of those cases, 4,290 were mask-related. The rate of investigations last year was over 500% higher than any year of the previous decade. The lawsuit said:

 “As pilots for major airlines, we have seen up close and personal the chaos in the sky created by the FTMM (Federal Transportation Mask Mandate), with thousands of reports to the Federal Aviation Administration of ‘unruly’ passenger behavior since the FTMM took effect Feb. 1, 2021.”

FAA graph of passenger incidents
A graph showing the rate of passenger incidents on US flights since 1995 | © FAA

A similar story has been happening in the Netherlands this week, with a number of airlines refusing to comply with the Dutch government’s recent extension of mask rules. The International Civil Aviation Organization strongly recommends wearing a mask on flights but has not labelled it compulsory.

What are your thoughts on the current mask rules on commercial flights? Let us know in the comments below!

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Josh McMinn
Josh McMinn
Jr Reporter - Josh is an Jr. Aviation Reporter at Travel Radar covering the latest industry news, developments and passenger experiences. Outside of reporting, Josh is a talented artist and camera operator with experience spanning several industries.


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