Spirit Airlines has been accused of discriminating against a passenger who wore a patriotic stars and strips face covering on a recent flight which ended up with one flight attendant even threatening to get law enforcement to meet the flight on arrival. Right-wing commentators have accused the Florida-based low-cost airline of being un-American but the carrier says all is not what it might at first seem.
Twitter user @mikeampd shared a short video of an interaction with a Spirit Airlines flight attendant on Friday in which he claimed he was being “harassed” for wearing an American flag face covering. Mike insists he was wearing an appropriate face covering but the flight attendant wasn’t having any of it.
“I’m wearing a mask,” the passenger says in the short 45-second clip, to which the flight attendant simply replies “no”. The flight attendant asks if the passenger is wearing another mask underneath and even offers to supply a mask but Mike insists there’s nothing wrong with the covering he’s already wearing.
“It’s is not legal according to the CDC,” the flight attendant continues, although the passenger dismisses that claim, asking to see proof which the flight attendant refuses to provide. So was this dispute simply because the passenger’s face covering had an American flag printed on it?
No, say’s Spirit which explained in a statement that it welcomes any guests who want to show their national pride with an American flag on their face mask. The issue, which wasn’t caught in the video clip, was that the passenger was wearing a gaiter rather than a face mask.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges caution on the use of gaiters as an effective face covering and it appears that Spirit has taken onboard that CDC guidance with an update to its face-covering policy.
“Safety is Spirit Airlines’ first priority,” the airline said in a statement. “The CDC cautions that gaiters may not be effective, and we require Guests to double up gaiters so they’re dual-layered. We welcome Guests who want to show their pride with an American flag on a face covering that meets with our policy.”
“The flight attendant was trying to enforce our policy for the safety of the Guests and Team Members on the flight,” the statement continued. “The video clip that was shared only shows a fraction of the interaction after he offered an appropriate mask and other alternatives, but the Guest refused.”
A recent study from researchers at Duke University School of Medicine recently ranked the effectiveness of 15 different types of face mask and covering. Single-layer neck gaiters were found to be the least effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
While Spirit doesn’t (yet) explicitly ban gaiter style face coverings the airline says face coverings “must fit snugly cover the nose and mouth and be secure under the chin and have at least two layers of fabric”.
Open-chin triangle bandanas, face coverings that have a valve or are made from a mesh material, as well as face shields that worn without a mask are also not permitted.
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.