Southwest CEO declares ‘masks don’t add much, if anything’ to in-flight protection against COVID-19

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The CEO of Southwest Airlines told a Senate committee on Wednesday that the wearing of “masks don’t add much, if anything” to stop the spread of COVID-19 on commercial flights as he went on to question the logic behind mask mandates that have been imposed both by the Biden administration and airlines themselves.

Gary Kelly made his remarks during a hearing regarding oversight of the industry before members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, as he was joined by airline bosses who said that filtration systems in commercial aircraft make them the safest indoor space to be in.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the committee’s ranking member, asked the airline chieftains about the quality of air on flights: “Will we ever be able, do you think, to get on an airplane without masks?”

Regarding in-flight air quality, Kelly responded, “The statistics I recall is that 99.97% of airborne pathogens are captured by the [high-efficiency particulate air] filtering system, and it’s turned over every two or three minutes.”

“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” he added. “It’s very safe, and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”

The Mississippi Republican then directed the same question to Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines, who answered: “I concur. The aircraft is the safest place you can be – it’s true of all of our aircraft. They all have these HEPA filters and the same airflow.”

In fact, United Airlines boss Scott Kirby told Wicker, air quality on commercial planes is “safer, actually, than an intensive care unit” before going on to note that “being next to someone on an airplane – sitting next to them – is the equivalent of being 15 feet away from them in a typical building.”

At present, Fox Business noted, most locations across the country no longer require patrons or workers to mask up “save for certain Democrat-controlled jurisdictions and areas under federal oversight.”

Airlines moved to impose mask mandates on their own early in 2020 as the pandemic spread, and many were receptive to President Biden’s federal mandate requiring the wearing of masks aboard commercial flights after he took office. That mandate was supposed to expire in September, but the Transportation Security Administration decided to extend it through Jan. 18.

That said, the mask requirements have been a major source of problems for airlines regarding compliance. For months, video clips of non-compliant, often unruly, passengers have been posted online as flight attendants and personnel aboard commercial planes struggled to enforce the rule. Other clips have shown exasperated parents being told to get off of planes when their small children refused to mask up.

But publicly, airline bosses have not been critical of the mandate.

After Fox Business asked for clarification of Kelly’s comments, the airline issued a boilerplate response in a statement: “Southwest Airlines continues to abide by the federal mask mandate for customers and employees both within the airport environment and onboard all Southwest aircraft.”

Jon Dougherty


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