The CEOs of two of the nation’s major airlines say they don’t think wearing masks on planes does much to help limit exposure to Covid.
The comments from American Airlines CEO Doug Parker — the nation’s largest carrier — and Southwest CEO Gary Kelly came during a hearing about the financial support that airlines received from the federal government in 2020 and 2021. But the topic of masks arose via a question from Sen. Roger Wicker, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee holding the hearing.
“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.
Both Kelly and Parker mentioned that high-grade HEPA air filters on planes capture virtually all airborne contamination and air quality is helped by how frequently cabin air is exchanged with fresh air from outside the cabin.
“I concur. An aircraft is the safest place you can be,” said Parker. “It’s true of all of our aircraft — they all have the same HEPA filters and air flow.”
However, Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, testified at the hearing that not all aircraft are equipped with same quality of air filters. For example, some older planes do not have HEPA filters, she said.
“I think that is probably for the medical community to decide rather than me,” Nelson added. “What I will add is that the studies that have been done [on masks]….were done with mannequins that were sitting straight forward with masks on, not removing them, not eating.”
“It is important to recognize that the safe, controlled environment on planes…includes the HEPA filters that are not on all aircraft,” she concluded.
Masks on planes are required by the federal government, following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control.
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