NJ men kicked off plane over scuba-like mask
Two New Jersey brothers were booted from the United flight to Florida for the Super Bowl on Friday over a plastic mask they said offered extra protection against the spread of coronavirus.
Rob Joseph and his brother William told NorthJersey.com they wore a Narwall mask, which covers the entire face like a snorkeling mask with a tube coming out of the top.
While trying to board their flight from Newark Liberty to Tampa on Jan. 23, agents at the boarding gate told them to wear a cloth mask like everyone else or they would not be able to board, the brothers told NorthJersey.com.
The brothers tried to compromise and put the mask on the shield but were not allowed on the flight, they told NorthJersey.com.
Alex Rattray, of Baltimore, told New Jersey 101.5 that he created the mask at the beginning of the pandemic when he was living with someone who was immunocompromised with a lung condition. Masking by the general public was not yet being required and the N-95 surgical masks were being saved for healthcare workers.
"I don't want to compromise the medical supply chain but I need to keep my friend safe and we need to keep vulnerable people safe in general. So I had this idea to use this full-face snorkel mask and put really high grade filters in there," Rattray said.
The name Narwall comes from narwhal whales, with the spelling alluding to the barrier, or "wall," the product provides.
Rattray contacted a snorkel manufacturer about his idea and collaborated with them on adding the filters, making it faster to bring the Narwall to market by using an existing product. One of the intended uses was on an airplane and the incident at Newark was the first time a wearer was kicked off a flight.
"There have been other incidents when a gate attendant asked them to remove the Narwall mask or wear a surgical mask over it or underneath it and, of course, doing that is totally fine," Rattray said. "This is a time when airlines need to be educating their staff about what is a compliant mask."
United spokesman Robert Einhorn told New Jersey 101.5 in a statement the airline's safety compliance group reviewed the Narwall mask and determined it doesn’t align with the company’s current mask policy, as it has vents.
The product's website, however, says exhaled air is filtered, not simply vented.
"We also have some concerns that a mask like that could create certain impediments in a variety of potential emergency scenarios that could in fact take place onboard including but not limited to communication issues," Einhorn said.
Rattray said United has not contacted them with their concerns but would welcome the opportunity.
"I think as soon as you put this mask on you can immediately tell that none of their concerns hold any water. This mask doesn't tug at your ears like other masks do, it's very easy to hear other people and it's very easy to remove quickly. In fact, it's easier to remove this mask more quickly than other masks, especially N95s," Rattray said.
Most airlines require a mask while flying on a commercial plane, which President Biden made mandatory with an executive order in effect until the end of March.
CDC guidelines require use of a cloth mask that fits "snugly but comfortably against the side of the face. Mask should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures." Face shields or goggles do not meet the guidelines.