Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, and Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, say during a Senate hearing on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on December 15 2021.
Chip Somodevilla | Swimming pool | Reuters
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly tested positive for Covid-19 after a Senate hearing with other airline chiefs earlier this week, the airline said on Friday.
Kelly, along with the CEOs of United Airlines and American Airlines, Delta Airlines” Chief of Operations and President of the largest flight attendant union in the country, testified personally for more than three hours At the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday afternoon over $ 54 billion in federal payroll slips the airlines spent trying to get out of the pandemic. Witnesses and lawmakers did not wear masks during the hearing. Most of the other participants wore face masks.
“Although Gary tested negative several times before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing, he tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home, showing mild symptoms and a PCR test,” a Southwest spokeswoman said in a statement. “Gary is fine and is currently resting at home. He was fully vaccinated and received the booster earlier this year. Gary’s symptoms remain mild and he is getting closer to a full recovery each day.”
United boss Scott Kirby, who was Kelly’s left in the hearing, tested negative for Covid on Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter. American boss Doug Parker tested negative on Friday, a spokeswoman said.
Delta’s chief of operations, John Laughter, who testified at the hearing on Wednesday and sat two seats away from Kelly, tested negative on Thursday and Friday.
“He will continue to carry out tests and take other precautions if necessary,” the airline said in a statement.
To Laughter’s left sat Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants.
“I was advised by Gary Kelly shortly after he tested positive and, ironically, just as I was getting back to work after the booster,” she said in a statement. “I follow CDC protocols and will test multiple times within the recommended period of 5-7 days and before I go on vacation with my family.”
Senators questioned witnesses about recent flight disruptions, airline hiring issues, 5G, as well as vaccination and mask requirements.
When Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) Asked airline CEOs during the hearing whether they assumed that passengers would not have to wear masks on board, Kelly promoted the effectiveness of the air filtration and circulation systems on board and said, “Me think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much to the air cabin environment. “
The Biden government has been requiring bus passengers to wear face masks since February, although airlines requested them in spring 2020 with the start of the pandemic. Earlier this month, the Biden government extended the mandate until March 18.
On Friday, Kelly softened his tone and said he supported the federal mandate.
During the hearing, “I mistook some for a short answer to a question about masks,” he wrote in a staff note in which he also disclosed his positive Covid result. “So, to be clear, me and Southwest and together with [U.S. airline lobbying group] Airlines for America are all coordinated and support the current federal mask mandate at airports and in airplanes.
“The majority of our employees and customers feel that it’s an important layer of protection, and I definitely agree,” he continued. “So we continue to rely on the advice of our medical experts about the need for masks. And I apologize for the confusion!”
Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, John Laughter, executive vice president of Delta Air Lines, and Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, say before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 15, 2021.
Chip Somodevilla | Swimming pool | Reuters
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said, “I agree,” immediately following Kelly’s response at the hearing, but the company issued a statement Thursday saying it would “approve of the comments made by other witnesses about the high quality of the Aircraft Cabin Air “agree and did not question the need for face masks on airplanes.”
Parker later posted a lengthy statement on his Instagram account saying the airline supported the mask mandate and that he “should have been more explicit in my answer to a question that misrepresented American’s position on the mask mandate has”.
Air travel is one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic. In the meantime, demand has recovered, primarily thanks to domestic leisure travel. Delta and United executives announced this week that they are preparing Busy end of the year holiday season, despite the prevalence of the Omicron variant.