Since the start of the pandemic, there have been plenty of instances where airplane passengers have been kicked off flights for refusing to wear facemasks. But a New Jersey man was recently removed from a United flight because his mask may actually have been too much, he says.
Robert Joseph said he hadn't flown since COVID hit last March. He was recently set to fly down to Tampa, as his job working security was having him work the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Weeks before his flight from Newark to Tampa was set to take off, Joseph bought a special $85 mask that loosely resembles a gas mask. It comes with face shield and a breath filter, which he said made him feel safe.
"My wife's cousin lost her husband to COVID — 44 (years old), she was left with a 6-month-old and a 2-year-old, so it was a very unfortunate situation but it was kind of a wake-up call to everybody that this is no joke, we need to take this seriously," Joseph said in a virtual interview with NBC New York. "Going into the airport, I felt safe wearing (his mask), like my own little bubble around my face to keep it protected."
However, when he tried to board his 11 a.m. flight, Joseph said he was handed a different mask. He was told the one he was wearing was against company policy.
"I didn't do anything wrong," he contended.
After some back and forth, Joseph said he put on another mask, and carried the one he brought with him. That's when the situation escalated further.
"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. I said no, I'm fine, I'm going to go sit down, you don't have to hear another word from me," Joseph recalled. "At that point they said no, we already told you to leave, get off. That's when it spiraled out of control."
After getting booted from that flight, he said he had to wait for the next one — almost seven hours later. In a statement to NBC New York, United Airlines said they don't allow that type of mask because "it could potentially create certain impediments in emergency scenarios, such as preventing clear communication between customers and crew-members."
Joseph maintain that he was simply advocating for his safety, in addition to everyone else on the flight's safety. He said the experience left him with a bad taste, and that he plans on returning home on a different airline.
Whether he will be allowed to wear his own mask remains to be seen.