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Did This Mask Get a Flyer Removed from a United flight?

Did This Mask Get a Flyer Removed from a United flight?
Joe Cortez

The CDC is requiring all flyers to wear a face covering aboard aircraft – but what happens when a flyer tries to go beyond the requirements? One attempted to wear a new mask design aboard a United Airlines flight, and says he was asked to leave the aircraft for non-compliance.

Under new rules issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all flyers must wear a face covering before boarding an aircraft. However, one flyer says they were not allowed to board despite wearing what they claim was an improved mask design. Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ-TV reports the “Narwall” face mask potentially cost one person a seat on their United Airlines flight.

Narwalls Can’t Fly – Or Can They?

According to their website, the Narwall mask is designed to keep travelers safe as they navigate the world by plane, train, or other public option. Integrating a face shield and mask together, the design resembles a gas mask with vents over the head and at the mouth. The company says their mask is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and authorized under the broad Emergency Use Authorization to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rob Joseph was using one of the Narwall masks when attempting to board a United flight from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Tampa International Airport (TPA). At the gate, Joseph told WJZ that he was asked to wear a different face covering provided by the airline.

Without incident, Joseph said he wore the airline’s face covering and continued to board. But the gate agents were allegedly not interested in letting him fly with the Narwall on board.

“[I] Said, I don’t need to say another word. I’m going to my seat. I’m done with this,” Joseph told WJZ. “And they said you know what, no. We already decided. I already asked you to leave. You’re off the flight.”

Joseph says he was denied boarding, and had to wait several hours to catch the next flight to Tampa. Flying home aboard another unnamed carrier, Joseph told the TV station he was allowed to fly wearing the Narwall without question.

In a statement to WJZ, United said they do not allow face coverings “…that could create impediments in emergency scenarios, such as impacting a customer’s ability to quickly administer oxygen in the event of the deployment of oxygen masks.”

Inventor Defends Narwall as Acceptable for In-Flight Use

Speaking to WJZ, Narwall inventor Alex Rattray claims his mask was designed for close-quarters, including flying aboard commercial aircraft. He believes several flyers – even those on United – have been able to use the filtered mask without incident. United says they do not allow masks that require a filter change, because they cannot guarantee flyers are changing the filters on schedule.

Feature image courtesy: Narwall via Facebook

View Comments (25)


  1. htb

    February 18, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    One crucial detail is missing: are the vents filtered out only the intakes?

  2. DaveS

    February 19, 2021 at 4:10 am

    Looks like a full face snorkel mask to me. Available for a few dollars on Amazon or many beach resorts.

  3. 50ae

    February 19, 2021 at 4:21 am

    O’ United. Every time I think another airline is worse you step up to the plate and prove me wrong.


    February 19, 2021 at 4:27 am

    It’s an absurd, obnoxious, over the top device. That having been said, he should have been able to put a proper mask on and been allowed to fly.

  5. Scudsone

    February 19, 2021 at 4:38 am

    No sympathy for this guy. That thing is ridiculous with a snorkel blowing his exhales directly into the face of the passenger behind him. Get a normal N95 or GTFO.

  6. vargha

    February 19, 2021 at 4:38 am

    When airlines act as physicians and health advisors, there’s no telling what kind of decisions they will make.

  7. RSSrsvp

    February 19, 2021 at 4:55 am

    “United says they do not allow masks that require a filter change, because they cannot guarantee flyers are changing the filters on schedule.”

    That is a extremely weak defense by United as many people reuse paper masks countless times which are meant to be worn only once or twice. This is well past the time where they are effective and some PR person at UA used this filter change excuse to cover for the overreaction of the gate personnel at EWR.

  8. mrchris

    February 19, 2021 at 6:01 am

    ” United says they do not allow masks that require a filter change, because they cannot guarantee flyers are changing the filters on schedule.”

    This is pretty absurd. Most people are wearing cloth masks with no replaceable filter and there is no way to know when the last time they washed the mask was. What’s the difference between a cloth mask 5 weeks past needing to be laundered and a replaceable filter mask that may or may not have had one replaced recently?

    Some bug got up the gate agents arse and the rest is just BS to try and cover their butts rather than simply apologize. Having multiple family members working inflight (pilots and FA’s) I generally will side with the airlines if a passenger is acting questionably. But lately some of this crap has just been nonsensical on the airlines part. With the financial pain they are feeling from the pandemic I don’t think they can afford to just antagonize passengers without just cause.

  9. rpaverd

    February 19, 2021 at 6:31 am

    ” United says they do not allow masks that require a filter change, because they cannot guarantee flyers are changing the filters on schedule.” but I doubt that they check the passengers with cloth masks to ensure that they conform fully to CDC requirements and have been freshly washed….

    Thank you United for preventing more advanced technology while allowing dangerous masks on board.

    Optimally, the CDC mandate should have been “minimum new medical 3 layer disposable masks” with KN95 or better also encouraged – at least then we will know that they are serious about passenger safety

  10. arcticflier

    February 19, 2021 at 7:00 am

    Joseph should have remained cooperative and not defied crew instruction.

  11. PushingTin

    February 19, 2021 at 7:25 am

    “United says they do not allow masks that require a filter change, because they cannot guarantee flyers are changing the filters on schedule.” But you can wear the same cloth mask that you’ve had in you pocket since last March?

  12. MEaton

    February 19, 2021 at 8:03 am

    Me thinks thou doth protest too much.. I fly United all the time and witness interaction between gate staff and crew with passengers regarding facemasks. You can’t imagine the deferent types of “masks” people try to board with, especially on their children. I can’t believe Mr. Joseph was genuinely polite and accommodating in his “discussion” with staff, and they simply kicked him off the flight. United is starving for revenue and I believe that staff goes out of their way, stretching the rules to allow passengers on board. I would think that Mr. Joseph almost expected staff to question such a radically different mask and should have spoken to United BEFORE trying to board with an unknown shield as face protection. A clear plastic bag over my head and shoulders would afford me and other passengers, maximum protection, but I doubt an airline would allow me on board, regardless of how “polite” I was at the gate…

  13. Loren Pechtel

    February 19, 2021 at 8:05 am

    I suspect the FA didn’t realize that thing is easily removable.

  14. jficht

    February 19, 2021 at 9:22 am

    And then you get served drinks and then coffee in first class and have your mask off for half of the time. Anyways, I received my two vaccinations so I’m not worried about it.

  15. OnePatriot77

    February 19, 2021 at 9:36 am

    “United says they do not allow masks that require a filter change, because they cannot guarantee flyers are changing the filters on schedule.” Oh really? Can United guarantee a passenger is changing their disposable surgical mask on schedule? This is a ridiculous policy and failure from United.

  16. DMIND00

    February 19, 2021 at 10:25 am

    This is a stupid remark by United but it is not first stupid remark they have made about passengers in the past. I wear face coverings all the time that have filter and I do not always get them cleaned. I bet there are a lot of people on their planes that have filter inserts in their face coverings and have not been cleaned frequently. This is wrong to have not let him fly with the mask. I would sue United. It is an apogee mask. Whats more there is not a problem in taking that off and putting the oxygen mask on. In a very very very unlikely event that you would need to put the mask on. In the almost 40 year’s and over 3 million miles I have flown only one time on a 737 Lufthansa flight did Oxygen masks come down. That was a cabin pressurization problem. We did not end up using them. that was way back in 1983. If this was not an approved. As Stated above “The company says their mask is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and authorized under the broad Emergency Use Authorization to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.” Also United is not even blocking their middle seat. I got COVID19 and I think I got it on my American Airlines flight because the passenger directly behind me was coughing. I wear goggles on my American Airlines flights with no problem but I bet Untied might and say that it would hinder me in placing an oxygen mask on my face. It would be interesting to see if that would be the case.

  17. Gizzabreak

    February 19, 2021 at 11:44 am

    I understood (and still do) that in respect of ‘pandemic protection’ the concept of a simple ‘dust mask like’ face covering was to protect others from you, not you from them … the idea being that although the simple design and cheap materials used in these ‘dust masks’ provides virtually no ‘edge sealing’ and limited particulate protection when inhaling, they provide a commendable amount of ‘muffling’ effect to stop coughs, sneezes (and vigorous exhalation in general) from spreading unnecessarily far from a possibly infected person’s mouth (in particular) and nose.

    On this basis, devices with exhalation valves; as were earlier the ‘uninformed fashion’ addition to even the cheapest of CV ‘dust masks’, are exactly contrary to minimising particulate spread, in that they restrict exhalation to (generally) a few small apertures, greatly magnifying its velocity and range (think pouring water gently from a bucket as opposed to squirting the same amount in the same time from a small diameter garden hose).

    While the Narwhal ‘device’ may well provide enhanced inhalation protection with filter(s?) and (it appears) feather edge face contact seals (think any (say) 3M Industrial Respirator/Filter mask), it does exactly the opposite of what is trying to be achieved (limiting exhalation spread) with its forward pointing ‘high velocity’ exhalation valve.

    Perhaps if the perpetrator of this invention has looked a little more closely at what needed to be achieved and had (say), provided an exhalation tube that could be tucked down the neckline and placed inside outer clothing, he would have made a worthwhile contribution to providing inhalation protection with his all enveloping scuba mask and feather edge seals and a huge advance in achieving virtually nil exhalation spread with an ‘inside the clothing’ dispersal tube.

    Next ‘quantum leap’ invention (perhaps) … a fully self contained system with mask and tank full of certified pure air … per fire department and scuba systems. Me? I’ll stick to the airline provided, throw away, ‘workshop’ dust mask, thanks.

    PS: And if you think ‘masks’ used to muffle exhalation is a load of BS, take your next long haul vacation (when/if) to one of the big Asian cities (anywhere from the East coast of China, down and West, will do). They’ve known (and practiced) ‘don’t spread it’ mask precautions from way, way before global pandemics made the West sit up and take notice.

  18. tkelvin69

    February 20, 2021 at 7:17 am

    Just wear a known approved mask. What an idiot.

  19. merle

    February 20, 2021 at 3:07 pm

    It’s absurd that people are claiming that UA is in the right on this one. It was a mask, and meets the definition of one.

    It’s scary? So are certain people but are we going to start banning them?

    It can impact safety? So can handicapped people and people who are obese

    UA just didn’t like this mask.

    As for the people who complain about the “one way” or “vent” valves, what about OTHER masks that have them? What about kids that don’t wear masks? You going to have UA examine each and every mask for product safety and define the particulate qualifiers along with evaluation of usage during the flight?

    Of course not. You’re grasping at straws.

  20. AsiaTravel2019

    February 20, 2021 at 3:44 pm

    As someone who has flown throughout the pandemic on multiple airlines, people just need to follow the rules or get off the planes. Don’t get cute, don’t be ridiculous, just wear a normal mask and go on about your business.

  21. pdisme


    February 22, 2021 at 8:26 am

    They should have required him to purchase the seat behind him since the stupid thing blows his exhalations directly into that person’s face.

  22. DeltaFlyer123

    February 23, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    I just can’t imagine why some people just refuse to comply with rules that businesses impose when they enter their property (in this case, their airplane). If they don’t like the rules, they can take their business elsewhere. If the rules are mandated by a government, they can take up their objections with them. A hundred other people complied, and want to get going.

  23. ND Sol

    February 23, 2021 at 2:39 pm

    Too many of the comments show that they don’t know how this device works.

    1. The tube at the top is for inhaling (not exhaling) and has a filter to protect the wearer.

    2. The exhale valve is in the front and has a filter that is better than the masks that are commonly worn.

    This device is better for both the wearer and nearby persons than what United requires. United made a mistake.

  24. montone59

    February 23, 2021 at 8:41 pm

    Don’t know anything about or have much concern about the mask, but the guy sounds like a bit of a jerk. And that’s why I wouldn’t want him sitting next to me.

  25. pulokk1

    February 27, 2021 at 6:01 am

    “[I] Said, I don’t need to say another word. I’m going to my seat. I’m done with this,”


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