JetBlue, American, Southwest pilots sue CDC over federal mask mandate

TSA extended the mask mandate through April 18

A group of commercial airline pilots filed a lawsuit against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in an attempt to lift the federal transportation mask mandate.   

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In court paperwork, the 10 commercial airline pilots – who work for American JetBlue and Southwest – argued that the CDC issued an order "Requirement for Persons to Wear Masks While on Conveyances & at Transportation Hubs" on Feb. 1, 2020 "without providing public notice or soliciting comment."

The pilots are asking the court to "vacate worldwide the FTMM (federal transportation mask mandate)" calling the move an "illegal and unconstitutional exercise of executive authority."   

A passenger wears a face mask she travels on a Delta Air Lines flight after taking off from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File / AP Newsroom)

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) mask mandate went into effect on Feb. 1, 2021, and was originally set to expire on May 11, 2021. However, the TSA has extended the mandate several times since then as infections rose nationwide. The rule now remains in place through April 18. 

Until then, the "CDC will work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor," TSA said in a statement earlier this month. "This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science." 

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However, the pilots claim that federal officials adopted the policy despite "countless scientific and medical studies and articles showing that face masks are totally ineffective." 

A Jetblue Airways Airbus A320 takes off from Fort Lauderdale Airport.

The pilots also argue that it was enacted without "considering the impact on tens of millions of travelers and transportation workers every single day." 

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The pilots say they "have seen up close and personal the chaos in the sky created by the FTMM, with thousands of reports to the Federal Aviation Administration ('FAA') of ‘unruly’ passenger behavior since the FTMM took effect Feb. 1, 2021 – nearly all of which have been caused by incidents related to masks," according to court documents. 

So far this year, the FAA has already received 889 reports of unruly passengers, with 587 of those cases mask-related incidents. In 2021, 5,981 unruly passenger cases were reported to the FAA with 4,290 being mask-related. 

To quell these incidents, the FAA has been proposing fines against passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with airline crew members as part of its zero-tolerance policy, which was adopted in January 2021. The FAA reported that the rate of incidents has dropped by half since record-highs reported in early 2021. 

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
AAL AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC. 13.55 -0.78 -5.44%
LUV SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. 37.79 -1.90 -4.79%
JBLU JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORP. 7.69 -0.31 -3.88%

Still, the pilots say the policy was "was rushed into place only 12 days after the inauguration" and that the CDC and HHS "illegally failed to give passengers and employees our legally guaranteed option under the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act ('FDCA') to refuse to use a medical device (face mask) not approved by HHS’ Food & Drug Administration ('FDA') or allowed only under an Emergency Use Authorization ('EUA')." 

Representatives for Southwest, American and JetBlue airlines did not immediately return FOX Business' requests for comment. 

Representatives for the Air Line Pilots Association, the world’s largest airline pilot union, and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association did not return FOX Business' request for comment.

The Allied Pilots Association, the labor union representing American Airlines pilots, declined to comment.