Gary Kelly, the outgoing chief executive of Southwest Airlines says the carrier won’t recommend a further extension of the controversial federal face mask mandate that has been partially responsible for an explosion in unruly passenger incidents over the last 15 months.
Instead, Kelly says airlines should be allowed to adopt the same guidance that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued for nearly every other public indoor space – that it’s safe for fully vaccinated Americans to go without a face mask.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which represents nearly 50,000 crew members across the United States, has scoffed at the idea that flight attendants could possibly police such guidance saying it would be impossible for crew to distinguish between the fully vaccinated and unvaccinated.
The face mask mandate was signed into law shortly after President Biden took office in January and has already been extended once through to September 13. Nelson says consideration should be put into a second extension to combat the fast-spreading Delta variant.
The powerful airline lobby group Airlines 4 America (AFA) which Kelly is also the chairperson of says it won’t be pushing for an extension of the face mask mandate unless CDC advice changes.
“We wouldn’t advocate from Southwest’s perspective, or the A4A for that matter, extending the mandate,” Kelly noted during an investor call on Thursday. “That’s a political question, to a degree,” he continued.
At present, the CDC stands by its current advice for public indoor settings but both Los Angeles and New Orleans have brought back mask mandates because of surging infection rates that might prompt a wider rethink.
The CDC refused to comment about whether the federal face mask mandate for public transport might be dropped on September 13.
Scott Kirby, chief executive of United Airlines told CBS’ Face the Nation earlier this month that he anticipates that the mask mandate to be dropped in September. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker sidestepped a question about the mandate on Thursday, telling reporters:
“What they decide, we’ll enforce… It’s not for us to opine.”
Delta’ chief executive Ed Bastian, however, has taken a more nuanced stance on the future of the mask mandate saying last week that there were just as many “pros to taking the mask requirement off as there are to keeping it on at the present time.”
Yesterday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said 83 per cent of passengers still support airline face mask rules so long as they aren’t made permanent. Every airline in the UK has chosen to keep face mask rules in place despite a decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lift a face mask mandate on Monday.
Photo Credit: Stephen M. Keller / Southwest Airlines
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.
The vaccinated should continue to wear masks. The FA union boss says because it’s not practical to distinguish between the vaccinated and unvaccinated. I say that is not a good reason. Rather, the hardship of mask wearing is slight and the pandemic is still roaring strong.