Sep 20, 2020
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Spirit Airlines reiterated its policy of wearing only masks approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after a passenger refused to wear anything other than his neck gaiter, which does not meet CDC standards.
A video, recorded by the passenger and shared on social media last week, shows a flight attendant asking a man wearing an American flag-themed neck gaiter if he has a mask on underneath because the gaiter on its own does not comply with Spirit or CDC guidelines.
"Our flight attendants asked the Guest in this video to double up his gaiter," the airline said in a statement shared on social media Friday. "When he refused, they offered him an alternative face covering, and he refused that option, too."
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"What's wrong with my mask?" the passenger asked, before repeatedly telling the flight attendant to "show me those rules."
"I don't have to wear the mask that you gave me," he said. "I'm wearing the mask that I have. ... I've been on 20 flights with this same exact mask."
The flight attendant reiterated that the gaiter did not meet safety standards and said the airline would "have the authorities waiting for you when we land."
USA TODAY was unable to reach Spirit for more information.
The airline's statement notes that Spirit's policy adheres to CDC guidelines and requires face coverings that "snugly cover the nose and mouth, be secure under the chin and have at least two layers of fabric. The CDC cautions that gaiters may not be effective, which is why we require Guests to either double up neck gaiters so they're dual-layered and hug the chin, or to switch to a standard ear-loop face covering."
Spirit responded to comments online claiming the flight attendant penalized the passenger for wearing an American flag design.
"Spirit Airlines proudly welcomes anyone onboard who wants to show their pride with an American flag on a face covering that complies with our policy," the airline's statement said.
The CDC does not recommend using gaiters to protect against the novel coronavirus. "Evaluation of these face covers is ongoing, but effectiveness is unknown at this time," the CDC's website says in an update marked Aug. 27.
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Masks with two or more layers are recommended to prevent the spread of germs. In a Duke University study of the effectiveness of various types of face coverings, neck gaiters were found to be worse than no mask at all: The porous fabric may break the larger particles into smaller ones, which remain in the air longer than large droplets.
Warren S. Warren, a professor of physics, chemistry and radiology at Duke who co-wrote the research, noted that the study wasn't a large-scale clinical trial, so the results can't be generalized. The outcome for the gaiter, made of a single layer of polyester-spandex blend, was worse because the most comfortable masks are usually thin and don't do a good job of blocking particles.
“When we take a look at the gaiter we used, for example, if you hold up the single layer to a light, stretched the way it would be when worn, you can see light through it," Warren said. "And my feeling is that if that's the case, it's not doing a very good job protecting the people around."
Contributing: Karina Zaiets and Karl Gelles