16TH MARCH 2022
Agroup of JetBlue pilots have filed a lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demanding the federal face mask mandate be ditched as they fear wearing a face mask is causing them harm.
The lawsuit is one of many legal attempts to fight the mask mandate – so far, every lawsuit has failed to overturn the mandate which was introduced by President Biden on his second day in office in January 2021.
The mandate was extended last week and is now expected to come to an end on April 18 unless extended once again. An uptick in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations across Europe could soon translate to more cases across the United States and give the CDC cause to extend the mandate.
“When the pandemic was in its early phases, we took a wait-and-see approach with regard to the mask requirements, but most of us realized right away that they were in direct conflict with our legal and innate obligation to conduct safe flights,” says Janviere Carlin, a JetBlue pilot who is one of the named parties in the lawsuit.
Carlin is joined by seven other JetBlue pilots, as well as pilots from Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and PSA Airlines, a regional carrier owned by AA.
“Our pilot license is directly linked to our medical certificate,” Carline continued.
Unless extended, the federal face mask mandate will end in…
“Those requirements touch each of us individually, so we each came up with our own ways of making sure that we were always safe and legal for flight. But unfortunately, that always put us in conflict with the mask mandate.”
The pilots claim frequent mask-wearing has resulted in them suffering from a new condition that they’ve dubbed ‘mask fatigue’ which can result in hypoxia, laryngitis, physical exhaustion, depression and claustrophobia.
Central to their legal argument, however, is the belief that the mask mandate was enacted illegally because the CDC allegedly did not follow the normal rule-making process and because Congress did not vote on the policy.
They hope, however, that the unique medical requirements of their job might sway the court.
“When it comes to masks, due diligence wasn’t performed to assess the effects on our physical and mental health,” explained Cristina Field, a PSA Airlines pilot.
“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.”
The CDC says it is currently working with other government agencies to “help inform a revised policy framework” for the mask mandate. This could see the mandate linked to hospital capacity and the rate of hospitalizations.
Based on the current threat facing the United States, that could see the mask mandate lifted on the vast majority of domestic flights but kept in reserve should the situation deteriorate. Masking could also be kept in force on certain international flights where the CDC currently recommends against travel due to the local COVID-19 situation.