Airline Mask Mandate Endangers Staff, Passengers

Flight attendants talk in a nearly empty cabin on a Delta Airlines flight during a flight departing from Salt Lake City, Utah, April 11, 2020. (Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

A group of nine flight attendants filed a lawsuit against the CDC earlier this month over the federal mask mandate on public transportation, arguing that being forced to wear masks and to enforce the mandate for passengers poses a risk to their own health and safety and hinders their ability to do their jobs.

Alaina Trocano, a 38-year-old commercial flight attendant based in Miami and the lead plaintiff in the suit, told National Review in a recent interview that the “safety of the flight is paramount,” and masks are “inhibiting” flight attendants’ ability to ensure that safety.

“There isn’t a blanket treatment or one-size-fits-all when it comes to health,” said Trocano, who is a former paramedic. “But people need to get where they’re going, and they should feel safe when flying. Especially when flying.”

Trocano, who has been a flight attendant since 2014, joined flight attendants from Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United in filing the suit against the mandate.

The suit is the first of its kind from flight attendants but follows at least 19 other lawsuits that have challenged the legality of the mandate, including a suit filed by ten pilots in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on March 15.

The flight attendants’ 61-page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado on March 24 argues that the mask mandate, which the Transportation Security Administration has extended through April 18, is unconstitutional.

The CDC recommended an extension of the mandate, which requires that face coverings be worn on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, despite issuing guidance in February that most Americans could stop wearing masks.

“As flight attendants for major airlines, we have seen up close and personal the chaos in the sky created by the FTMM, with thousands of reports to the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) of “unruly” passenger behavior since the FTMM took effect Feb. 1, 2021 — nearly all of which have been caused by incidents related to masks,” the complaint reads.

The Federal Aviation Administration recorded 5,981 unruly-passenger incidents in 2021, 4,290 of which involved masks.

“The pandemic, as far as the masks [are concerned], has been increasingly difficult,” Trocano said. “Needless to say, it’s created a lot of hostility between passengers and crew members and even crew members with other crew members.” 

She added that while the job of a flight attendant is to ensure safety, the hostility created by enforcing the mandate has made doing so increasingly difficult.

Trocano and the other flight attendants also expressed concern about about the potential health effects of being forced to wear a mask for hours on end while at high altitudes day after day.

Trocano, who has an underlying health condition, said she began to notice that she felt ill at work, with a laundry list of symptoms including headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, and nausea. She said the mask-wearing seemed to be exacerbating her health condition, and she became worried that she would fall and hurt herself inflight.

In December, she pulled her mask down because she was having difficulty breathing. She said a passenger approached her and asked her to wear her mask properly. When she explained why she had removed her mask, the passenger continued to insist she wear her face covering.

“Instead of even understanding that, he kept going, and he was like, ‘Well, you make us wear it, and you’re a representative of the company,’” she said.

“All I could say was, ‘I’m just in a very difficult situation right now, and if I can’t breathe, there’s going to be a problem on the flight,’” she said, adding that thankfully, other passengers came to her defense.

“I understand where the passenger’s coming from, because nobody, nobody likes the masks but . . . it was almost like, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t breathe,” she said, saying that the passenger’s attitude was, “If I have to do it, so do you.”

Trocano noted that the TSA’s order on the mask mandate specifically states that “persons who are experiencing difficulty breathing or shortness of breath or are feeling winded may remove the mask temporarily until able to resume normal breathing with the mask.”

She said, “But the problem with that is even if you do that, you still have a fear of getting harassed. That’s not right.

“I understand passengers are upset about the mask mandate, especially by crews that have been extremely forceful with it,” she said. “I just hope they know that there are a lot of us out there that support them. Especially ones with medical conditions or children with medical conditions. I feel horrible for [those who] are afraid to fly because of that. People don’t want to worry about being harassed when flying, let alone have it be put on the Internet.”

Trocano said this is why she decided to pursue a lawsuit attempting to end the mandate and permanently prohibit the CDC and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, from issuing such a mandate again.

The suit comes as a number of other industry leaders have called on the Biden administration to finally end the mandate.

Ten CEOs of U.S. passenger and cargo airlines wrote a letter last week urging the administration to lift its mask mandate and Covid-testing requirements for air travelers.

The administration currently requires travelers flying into the U.S. from abroad to present a negative Covid test prior to takeoff.

“The science clearly supports lifting the mask mandate, as demonstrated by the recently released CDC framework indicating that 99 percent of the U.S. population no longer need to wear masks indoors,” wrote the group of CEOs, which included American Airlines CEO W. Douglas Parker, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary C. Kelly, and United Airlines head Scott Kirby.

“It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do,” the letter adds.

The International Air Transport Association and the union representing Southwest Airlines’ flight attendants have also both called for an end to the requirement.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, 21 Republican state attorneys general filed a suit against the Biden administration to block the mandate.

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