10 pilots at major American airlines, including JetBlue and American Airlines, are suing the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the federal mask mandate in the U.S. 

The 10 pilots suing all work for JetBlue, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.

What is the federal mask mandate?

In February 2021, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued a mask mandate following an order from the CDC. 

The order states that all persons must wear masks when boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel on “conveyances” and “transportation hubs”. The order defines “conveyance” as including vehicles such as aircraft, trains, road vehicles, vessels and military transport.

This means that the mandate applies to all public transportation in the U.S, including commercial aircraft. 

As a federal mandate, citizens are required to follow the order or risk removal from their mode of public transport or being denied entry. 

The mandate has been extended several times from the initial May 2021 expiry date as the pandemic continued to last longer than expected. Last week, on March 10, the mandate was extended yet again to remain in effect until at least 18 April. 

In a statement, the TSA explained the reasoning behind the one-month extension and the revised policy framework that’ll be improved upon during the extension. 

This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science. We will communicate any updates publicly if and/or when they change.

Details behind the new legal case

The civil suit argues that the federal mask mandate ignores proven scientific studies proving that it is “ineffective in reducing coronavirus spread”. 

The small collective claimants of pilots also claim that the mask rule poses a health risk to pilots, “imperilling aviation safety” with the emergence of so-called “mask fatigue”. The lawsuit defines mask fatigue as a lack of energy that accompanies and/or follows the prolonged wearing of a mask. 

They also cited “serious concerns about the safety implications” of the mandate in terms of an increase in disruptive and abusive passengers aboard flights because of upset caused by the mandatory mask mandate, describing 2021 as the “worst year on record for buffoonish behaviour on planes”. 

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 behaviour since the FTMM took effect Feb. 1, 2021.

This argument is supported by details provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, which have said that 4290 mask-related incidences were reported in 2021 aboard commercial aircraft, accounting for more than 75% of the disruptive passenger reports received by the agency. 

The lawsuit was triggered by the recent extension of the federal mask mandate to mid-April, and the 10 claimants alleged that in issuing the extension, the CDC acted “without providing public notice or soliciting comment.”

The lawsuit concludes with a request that the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacate the mask mandate on aircraft, remove all signs informing passengers of the mandatory requirement to wear a mask worldwide, and compensate all of their legal costs and fees. 

 

The belief from the 10 pilots that mandatory government encouraged mask-wearing is an “illegal and unconstitutional exercise of executive authority” isn’t anything new. COVID-19 has spanned two years and in that time, alternative opinions about government-imposed mask-wearing and vaccinations have been a polarising and, at times, dangerous issue. 

A contentious situation, it is unknown how this court case will end up panning out and the impact it could have on COVID-safe travel in the aviation industry. 

 

What do you think of the lawsuit against the CDC? How have you found wearing a mask on commercial aircraft? Let us know in the comments.

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