Man Says United Removed Him From Flight to Super Bowl for Wearing Special Mask

A New Jersey man said that he was kicked off a flight bound for Tampa, Florida, where the Super Bowl will be played on Sunday, because he wore a mask that United Airlines considered non-compliant.

In an interview with NBC local affiliate WNBC, Robert Joseph said he purchased an $85 face covering that looked like a gas mask. That mask contained a face shield and breath filter. He was scheduled to fly from Newark, New Jersey, to Tampa as part of his job performing security duties at Super Bowl LV.

"Going into the airport, I felt safe wearing [the mask], like my own little bubble around my face to keep it protected," he explained.

According to Joseph, when he boarded his flight, he was given a different mask because the one he brought with him was against company policy. After an exchange, Joseph said he opted to put on another mask and carry the other mask, but was then told to leave. He maintained he did nothing wrong.

"At that point they turned to me and said it's not allowed on the plane, if you're not happy with our policies, you can leave," Joseph told WNBC. "I said no, I'm fine, I'm going to go sit down, you don't have to hear another word from me. At that point they said no, we already told you to leave, get off. That's when it spiraled out of control."

After he was taken off his original flight, Joseph said that he had to wait for his next plane for several hours.

United declined to comment when Newsweek reach out to the airline, but in a statement to WNBC, the company said the mask that Joseph brought with him was not permitted because "it could potentially create certain impediments in emergency scenarios, such as preventing clear communication between customers and crew-members."

Joseph said that the husband of his wife's cousin died due to the coronavirus, a situation he described as a "wake-up call" to people to take the pandemic seriously. He added that his experience left him considering traveling back home on an another airline.

Incidents of passengers refusing to wear a mask on flights have been an issue for airlines since early in the pandemic. Earlier this week, the TSA announced it would carry out President Joe Biden's executive order that masks must be worn while at airports as well as in transportation systems. The TSA further added that face covers are mandatory at airport security checkpoints effective February 2 through May 11. Those who violate the security directive will be fined starting at $250 and then $1,500 for repeat offenses.

In a press release, Darby LaJoye, senior official performing the duties of the TSA Administrator, said: "TSA will fully comply with the President's Executive Orders, CDC guidance and the DHS National Emergency determination to ensure healthy and secure travel across all transportation sectors. This will help prevent further spread of COVID-19 and encourage a unified government response. As we continue to experience impacts from this pandemic, we are committed to this measure as the right thing to do for the TSA workforce, for our industry stakeholders and for passengers."

United Airlines plane Newark
A United Airlines airplane is towed to a gate in front of the skyline of lower Manhattan in New York City at Newark Liberty Airport on April 12, 2019 in Newark, New Jersey. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images/Getty