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A New Jersey man dutifully wore a mask when he recently boarded a United flight to Florida — but was booted because the full-face contraption violated the airline’s policy, according to a report.
On Jan. 23, Mahwah native Rob Joseph and his brother arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport wearing Narwall masks — scuba-inspired devices named after the narwhal, a medium-size toothed whale, NorthJersey.com reported.
But they were surprised when airline employees told them to replace them with cloth coverings because the masks did not follow company guidelines — or they would not be allowed to fly.
“Is it goofy? Absolutely. Is it something you want to be seen in public? Not exactly,” Joseph, whose company is helping with security at the Super Bowl in Florida, told the news outlet.
“But to have that peace of mind for me and my family, I’m willing to take some stares to get down there safely,” added Joseph, who said he wanted to wear the $85 Narwall to protect himself on his first flight since March.
Joseph and his brother, who were handed surgical masks, tried to make their case to keep their high-tech devices on by handing gate employees information cards about how they worked, NorthJersey.com reported.
They eventually acquiesced and strapped surgical masks over the Narwalls’ exterior, but they faced more resistance when a flight attendant stopped them from boarding.
Joseph said he pulled up United’s mask policy on his phone and showed it to the flight attendant, who ultimately kicked him and his brother off the flight when they refused to remove their devices — despite TSA workers clearing them earlier.
According to CDC regulations that took effect Monday, masks that feature exhalation valves — which the Narwall appears to have — are unacceptable, according to the news outlet.
The rules also say that face shields cannot be worn instead of a cloth or surgical mask, only on top of them, though they do not take into account shields with integrated masks like the Narwall.
Joseph insists that there are no vents on the masks, which use replaceable filters, NorthJersey.com said.
But the brothers ultimately doubled up with cloth and surgical masks and boarded the next United flight to Florida seven hours later.
“It doesn’t meet the criteria image of the paper and cloth mask that everyone’s seen a million times,” Joseph told the news outlet, but “if I’m trying to exceed that for my own safety and my own comfort, to protect my newborn at home and my family that is at risk — that’s my right.”
Airline rep Charles Hobart told NorthJersey.com that the company’s safety compliance group reviewed the Narwall.
“Along with the fact that it does have vents, there are some other variables at play here that we notice with the mask, there are needs to change out the filter, there’s concerns about hearing impairment with a mask like that,” Hobart said.
The Narwall’s founder and creator, Alex Rattray, said many of his customers have boarded flights wearing his devices with no problem, but that there have been some cases similar to Joseph’s.
“Narwall was specifically designed to filter all exhale, to have no vents, to have no direct exhaust valve, which of course would endanger the people around the wearer potentially,” Rattray told NorthJersey.com.
“I had the idea to put a super high-grade filter to filter your exhale and your inhale to keep you and everyone safe,” added Rattray, whose Baltimore-based company launched the product in November.
His mask, which includes air filters made by Nelson Labs, is being checked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory for its “particulate filter efficiency and pressure difference of innovative filtering facepiece respirators,” according to the report.
“People who buy Narwall tend to be much more vulnerable people, or live with someone who is vulnerable, or are visiting someone who is vulnerable,” Rattray said.
“You can imagine that when they’re told to take that off and wear a surgical mask that offers less protection to the wearer — that can be extremely distressing and a frightening situation.”
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