Two airline CEOs question need for mask mandates on planes

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The chief executive officers of two major airlines have questioned the need for mask mandates on planes — insisting that face coverings “don’t add much” to the safety of flying amid the pandemic.

“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment. It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting,” the CEO of Southwest Airlines, Gary Kelly, told lawmakers during a congressional hearing Wednesday.

“I concur,” Doug Parker, the head of the country’s largest airline, American Airlines, added.

“An aircraft is the safest place you can be. It’s true of all of our aircraft — they all have the same HEPA filters and airflow.”

Both airline chiefs insisted that the high-quality air filters on their planes bring in new air and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker (left) and Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly (second from left) both questioned the need for aircraft mast mandates during a Congressional hearing.
EPA/Chip Somodevilla / POOL

The remarks were made in a Congressional hearing that reviewed how the pandemic bailout to airlines had been disbursed.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, raised the question about whether masks should be mandated on aircraft.

But not everyone agreed with the suggestion masks may be overrated. The president of the Association of Flight Attendants, Sara Nelson, noted that not all planes are equipped with the same new technology.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said “the case is very strong that masks don’t add much” on planes.
Chip Somodevilla/Pool via AP

“It is important to recognize that the safe, controlled environment on planes…includes the HEPA filters that are not on all aircraft,” she said.

And Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts slammed the suggestion that masks aren’t necessary on flights as “immoral” amid an outbreak of the Omicron variant.

“I’m shocked that some of the CEOs here today have suggested we no longer need masks mandates on planes,” Markey said.

“In the face of Omicron, children under five who still cannot be vaccinated… and that we still allow unvaccinated people on planes.”

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.
Chip Somodevilla/Pool via AP

Both airline executives have announced they will retire in 2022.

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