Southwest Airlines CEO contracts COVID days after questioning effectiveness of masks on planes

"I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything," while flying, the Southwest Airlines CEO said.

Updated: December 19, 2021 - 9:32pm

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Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly tested positive for COVID-19 just days after testifying at a U.S. Senate hearing where he questioned the effectiveness of masks on airplanes. 

Kelly spoke in front of the Senate Commerce Committee with other executives from American, Delta and United airlines, as well as with the head of the Association of Flight Attendants.

None of the witnesses wore masks during the hearing.

Kelly, according to CNN, told the Senators, "I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment. It's very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting."

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker also agreed with Kelly. "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 air flow," he said.

Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson said some older airplanes do not have HEPA air filters.

"I think that [mask mandates] probably for the medical community to decide rather than me," she added.

Both CEOs plan on retiring in several months.

Kelly is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and has received a received booster. Southwest told Reuters he tested negative multiple times before the hearing. He is currently "experiencing mild symptoms."

So far, all other witnesses have tested negative.

In early December, President Joe Biden extended the mask mandate on public transportation to March 18, 2022. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., both tested positive for COVID on Sunday, despite being fully vaccinated with booster shots. They are experiencing "mild" symptoms. Neither senator, however, is on the commerce committee.

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