A story out of south Florida that went viral this week highlights just about everything that can go wrong today in our hyper-connected society. It is a story of inconsistent policy and major overreaction, as well as just plain stupidity. And it all centers around a man who wore underwear as a face mask on a recent flight.

Or he would have, had the United Airlines staff not booted him prior to takeoff. 

The man claims he’s worn this version of a COVID mask, a pair of red underwear, on at least 20 flights since July. He was quoted as saying, “The first time I did it, I had no idea how it would be received. People just loved it. And not just 60 percent, 99.9.” He also claims that TSA agents “generally” loved it as well.

The TSA, calling this a “customer service” situation, told him after the removal that the underwear mask “met the required standard’ of covering his mouth and nose, so they did not see a problem and would not pursue charges for the incident 

The FAA apparently also agrees with that assessment.

To be completely honest, I am in the camp that seriously questions the effectiveness of the simple cloth masks that have been widely used during the pandemic. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t wear them when required. I wear them at airports and on planes. I wear them when required locally (although I live in Florida and that means almost never). Still, I don’t “rage against the system” simply because I question what I view as inconsistent and at times ineffective guidance. 

Besides, seeing how many people actually wear their masks, I now understand the failure rate of certain contraceptives.

I would also point out that that this underwear is likely 100% effective in catching the microscopic particles produced by flatulence so that no bystander would ever be exposed to noxious odors if standing nearby. I can state with absolute certainty that it offers the exact same protections from Covid.

But that is not really the point today. What the real topic of discussion is:

  • The man was ejected from the plane. Several other passengers, upset at his treatment, walked off in protest
  • United Airlines sent him a letter banning him for life.
  • LinkedIn disabled his account after his story went viral.

All of this when, according to federal guidelines and requirements, he was within the standards necessary. Some people simply did not like his method or mechanism.

Was it stupid to use underwear as a mask? Probably. But banning a passenger for life seems to be a bit of a stretch. How about a simple letter that says, “Hey buddy, next time you fly please wear your skivvies where they belong?” And LinkedIn disabling his account after his story went viral is extremely disturbing.

The man is a salesman and says he relies heavily on LinkedIn for his job. By disabling his account, the social media service has effectively hampered his income. I am not sure by what standard they based their decision. It would seem to me that concerns over bad publicity would be the responsibility of his employer.

For the record, any salesperson of mine who sucks my company into controversy by wearing underwear on their head would be canceled by me long before any social media platform could do it. Well, with the possible exception of anything that happens at our annual holiday party, that is.

Perhaps we are just weary after almost 638 days of “two weeks to flatten the curve.” Maybe we should all just take a breath (masked or not) and see if we can resist making snap decisions that really don’t make sense in the grander scheme of things. In a world where overreaction is becoming the norm, the risks to employment and security are quite real.  

All I know is I’m flying to Charlotte for meetings in a few weeks, and I am seriously rethinking wearing my lampshade face screen on the flight…

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