Nine flight attendants from six different airlines have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services over the federal mask mandate on air travel, claiming the measure is unconstitutional, ineffective, and harmful to their health and safety.
In the lawsuit, filed March 24 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, the flight attendants claimed the measure obstructs breathing over many hours and causes a litany of other health problems. Enforcement of the mandate also puts attendants in danger of retaliation from unruly passengers who refuse to comply, they added.
The plaintiffs also called the mandate "an illegal and unconstitutional exercise of executive authority," since it was enacted "without statutory authorization or following the rulemaking process required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)."
They urged a judge to vacate the Federal Transportation Mask Mandate effective immediately. Then they went even further, calling on the court to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the CDC and HHS from ever issuing such a mandate again.
The suit comes as the large majority of states across the country have begun lifting mask mandates for most areas of public life. Air travel, however, remains one of the last sectors with an ongoing mask requirement. The FTMM, which was placed in effect on Feb. 1, 2021, has been extended several times, most recently until April 18, 2022.
That latest extension, issued March 10, served as the last straw for several in the aviation industry. Shortly after the extension was announced, 10 major airline company CEOs issued a letter to President Joe Biden demanding that his administration move on from the mandate. Around the same time, a group of pilots filed a lawsuit against the CDC over the requirement.
"Masks impair our health and reduce flight safety," Southwest Airlines attendant Victoria Vasenden of Reno, Nevada, who is one of the plaintiffs, said, according to KTVX-TV.
"We are in planes and airports up to 18 hours a day with zero chance of fresh air. Physicians don’t wear masks that long," she added. "That’s assault on the brain, organs, and tissues of the human body. Yet, we are expected to ensure all aspects of the flight remain safe when masks clearly diminish our capacities."
Another plaintiff, Alaina Trocano of Fort Myers, Florida, who works for American Airlines, added, "We’re supposed to ensure safety yet there are many of us who do not feel safe ourselves."
"Mask or be harassed. That’s not ensuring safety. That’s enabling hostility. Air travel should be the last place for conflict," she lamented in reference to the several on-flight skirmishes over mask policy adherence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to Southwest and American, the plaintiffs in the complaint work for Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, and United. They come from six different states, as well.
The lawsuit is reportedly the 19th legal challenge filed against the FTMM but the first issued by flight attendants, who have effectively been commandeered by the federal government as enforcers of the mandate.
Neither the HHS nor the CDC have provided substantive comment to multiple local outlets reporting on the lawsuit. The CDC reportedly told KPHO-TV that it does not discuss pending litigation.