Airline CEOs Say Masks Don't Do Much for Passengers

American, Southwest do some clarifying after backlash on testimony
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 16, 2021 5:35 PM CST
Airlines Back Away From CEOs' View of Masks
From left, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby testify Wednesday before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on Capitol Hill.   (Tom Brenner/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

(Newser) – While flight crews battle unruly passengers, most of whom refuse to put on a mask for their trip, the bosses of a couple of major airlines told Congress that the masks don't do much good anyway. "I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment," said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. "It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting." Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, got behind that, CNN reports. "I concur. An aircraft is the safest place you can be," he said. They made the comments in testimony before a Senate committee looking into the $54 billion in grants given to airlines during the pandemic.

Not everyone agreed with the CEOs' assessment. Parker said all of Americans' airplanes "have the same HEPA filters and air flow." In her testimony, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants said all aircraft do not have air filters of the same quality. Some older planes lack HEPA filters, said Sara Nelson, who does not support ending the mask mandate on flights. Democratic Sen. Ed Markey pointed out that passengers can include children under 5 who can't be vaccinated and that unvaccinated people are allowed on planes. He called it "immoral" to advocate seating unvaccinated people next to maskless passengers.

A former surgeon general said the testimony was irresponsible. "These folks are making record money right now because of these mask mandates," Jerome Adams said on CNN, per the Hill. "I was disgusted when I heard that." Parker's airline later retreated from his claims. "We support the federal mask mandate," a spokeswoman clarified, saying masks are central to its safety efforts. Southwest also said it follows the mandate. As of last month, of the more than 5,000 cases of unruly airline passengers reported to the FAA this year, more than 3,600 involved people who refused to follow the mask mandate. (Read more mask mandates stories.)

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