Southwest Airlines CEO tests positive for COVID-19 after Senate testimony

Coronavirus

DALLAS – SEPTEMBER 27: Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly speaks to reporters during a press conference about the company’s plan to merger with AirTran Airways at Southwest Airlines Corporate Headquarters September 27, 2010 in Dallas, Texas. In a trend of continuing airline consolidation Southwest will buy its rival AirTran for an estimated $1.4 billion. (Photo by Lawrence Jenkins/Getty Images)

(The Hill) – Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on airline oversight, the company told Reuters on Friday. 

Kelly testified before the committee alongside the president of the nation’s largest flight attendant union and executives at United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. They did not wear masks during the hearing, which examined the impact of $54 billion in pandemic aid Congress gave to airlines. 

“Gary is doing well and currently resting at home, he has been fully vaccinated and received the booster earlier this year,” said a Southwest Airlines spokesperson. “Gary’s symptoms continue to be very mild, and each day he is moving closer to a full recovery.”

During the hearing, Kelly said that masks don’t provide much additional protection to air travelers, pointing to airplanes’ advanced air filtering systems, which capture airborne pathogens. 

“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much if anything in the air cabin environment,” Kelly told senators Wednesday. “It’s very safe, very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”

During the discussion about masks, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker added that an “aircraft is the safest place you can be.” American Airlines later told The Hill that Parker’s statements weren’t meant to “cast doubt on the necessity of face masks on planes” and that the company supports the federal mask mandate on airlines.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, who testified before the committee, said in a statement Friday that masks are a critical part of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, particularly amid the emergence of the fast spreading omicron variant. 

“As this surge shows, we are still in the middle of this pandemic,” Nelson said in a statement. “To ensure the health of aviation workers and the economic recovery of our industry, we must continue applying these important public health measures throughout our aviation system for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.”

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