Delta Air Lines wants all of its passengers to wear a face mask onboard its planes and at airports wherever in the world it operates and the Atlanta-based airline has demonstrated its willingness to ban anyone who doesn’t want to comply (so far, over 120 passengers have been banned indefinitely from flying Delta for refusing to wear a face mask). But while Delta will happily accept all manner of different masks and face coverings, there’s one type of mask which simply won’t be allowed to fly.
Building on emerging evidence, Delta will no longer permit face masks with a built-in exhaust valve, fearing that they might actually pose a greater risk to those sat near the wearer than if they weren’t wearing a mask at all.
Until very recently, face masks were considered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – they were designed to protect the user and that’s exactly what an N95 respirator mask with built-in exhaust valve does. But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the use of a face mask on its head.
Instead of protecting the user from virus droplets getting in, face masks are now seen as a key way to stop virus droplets getting out. Face masks don’t necessarily protect you but widespread adoption of even simple cotton masks are designed to protect those around you.
The problem with an exhaust valve is that it can act like a “jet” spraying out respiratory droplets in highly concentrated form and at high speed. Rather than protecting those around you, your mask could be putting people at even greater danger.
Originally designed for use in industrial settings, N95 masks with an exhaust valve weren’t ever intended for protecting users from viruses. The healthcare versions of N95 masks don’t have an exhaust valve for exactly this reason.
And it’s not just Delta clamping down on these far from appropriate face coverings. In fact, California’s Bay Area banned exhaust valve face masks back in April. Luckily, if you do rock up at the airport not realising your face mask could be doing more harm than good then Delta will provide a simple surgical mask for free.
Like other U.S. airlines, Delta has gone to great lengths in recent weeks and day to strengthen its face mask policy over concerns that too many passengers were ignoring the rules and putting others at risk. There were even reports that passengers were fraudulently claiming to have a medical reason for not wearing a face mask.
Delta now requires anyone claiming to have a medical exemption to gain pre-clearance from the airline’s on-call doctor before being allowed to board a flight. American and Southwest have gone even further, effectively banning anyone over the age of two who can’t wear a mask from flying.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.