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Airline CEO's Raise Questions About The Need of Masks on Planes

The opinions shared during a congressional hearing with airline leadership

CEOs from two of the nation’s major airlines stated Wednesday they do not believe masks provide much protection against the spread of COVID for passengers inside their aircraft.

The surprising comments from Doug Parker of American Airlines (AAL) and Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines (LUV) were shared during a hearing about the financial support that airlines received from the federal government in 2020 and 2021. 

The topic of masks was raised by Senator Roger Wicker, spurring some discussion amidst the panel around the subject. 

“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,” said Kelly, according to a report from CNN Business.

Both Kelly and Parker agreed that high-grade HEPA air filters on planes capture virtually all airborne contamination. The air quality is additionally helped by how frequently cabin air is exchanged with fresh air.

“I concur. 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.” said Parker

Scott Kirby of United Airlines (UAL) stated that air quality on planes is “safer, actually, than an intensive care unit.” Kirby went on to add that “being next to someone on an airplane is the equivalent of being 15 feet away from them in a typical building.”

The remarks by the airline giants were criticized by Senator Ed Markey, a member of the committee leading Wednesday’s hearing.

“I’m shocked that some of the CEOs here today have suggested we no longer need masks mandates on planes. In the face of Omicron, children under five who still cannot be vaccinated….and that we still allow unvaccinated people on planes,” said Markey.

He went on to say that it was “immoral” for the CEO’s to hold the position that people on planes may potentially be forced to sit next to people who are unvaccinated and not wearing masks.

American Airlines tried to minimize Parker’s remarks following Wednesday’s hearing. The company stated that Parker’s concurrence with Kelly was merely about the air quality in the aircraft cabin.

The masking requirement is still a source of much controversy. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been many instances of passengers being ordered to wear masks against their will.

The federal government currently requires that all passengers on flights wear masks, complying with the guidance offered by the Centers for Disease Control. 

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