Masks potentially serve two purposes:
Since there’s no longer a federal transportation mask mandate, and airlines have lifted their own mask requirements, if you wish you can wear almost any mask you choose.
It used to be that masks with valves for easier breathing weren’t allowed because those still had you exhaling into the airport and into the aircraft cabin. If there was a valve the mask did nothing to protect others from you. But with no mask rules in place, there aren’t specifications as to which masks satisfy those rules. You can now wear a mask with a valve.
There has been a lot of confusion during the pandemic about how the virus spreads, and how to protect yourself from it. Six feet was never enough distance, and the CDC knew that from the start. It was clear that the virus spread via aerosols since at least February 2020 (the Seattle choir, the South Korean call center, the restaurant in China) but the public health establishment wouldn’t recognize this.
Unsurprisingly there’s confusion at the front line – when air travel was one of the only places left masking, flight attendants were asked to become the enforcers. And they took a much harder line at American Airlines than, say, at United where most cabin crew just wrote up infractions rather than engaging in direct conflict with passengers.
And flight attendants aren’t experts. They don’t keep up with policies. They frequently don’t keep up with policies on service flow (predeparture beverages!). It can be tough to keep up with mask rules, or what the lifting of masking requirements changes.
And so we have this:
I am traveling to a funeral service for a family member and trying hard to protect the at-risk attendees. I have and am wearing a back-up non-vented N95, but would prefer to wear my elastomeric respirator which seals more tightly and has P100 filters.
— Riley Avron (@rileyavron) July 16, 2022
Great question! Only medical respirators can be worn and used while inflight.
— americanair (@AmericanAir) July 16, 2022
Without regard to this specific mask, bear in mind that American does not allow the following: “Personal face / body tents” “Personal face / body pods” “Personal air purifiers / refreshers” “Ozone generators.” The airline does not allow items it deems ‘recreational” or that would impede evacuation of the aircraft.
If the passenger was given a hard time over this mask because of the vent and for no other reason then my guess in this case is that (1) a flight attendant remembered the old rule about no masks with vents were allowed (that a vented mask did not satisfy the federal masking requirement, or the airline’s own requirement before that) and (2) the twitter team focuses on this specific mask suggesting it may violate the rule over too much personal protective equipment, while recognizing that a surgical respirator would be acceptable.
In practice this mask isn’t as scary or as cumbersome as it looks in the tweet. People wear P100 masks with respirators all the time. And the way they did it when there was still a masking requirement that banned valves? They stuck a cloth mask over the valve and that was compliant.
If you want to wear more than just a mask with a valve that will often fall underneath an airline’s accessibility rules, here’s United’s.
You may carry and use portable electronic personal ventilators, respirators and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines on board our flights if a manufacturer’s label or other documentation can confirm that the units meet FAA requirements.
We require a 48-hour minimum advance notification to our Accessibility Desk (1-800-228-2744) if you will be using a ventilator, respirator or CPAP machine on board your flight.
You can now choose the level of protection you’re comfortable with when flying, and in most areas of life, but there’s generally no longer a mandate for how others must protect you. For those at high risk that increases the need for good quality masking.