American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker was forced to issue a lengthy statement on Thursday in an attempt to clarify comments he apparently made about the effectiveness of face masks during a Senate committee hearing.
The soon to be retired AA boss appeared to suggest that the quality of cabin air onboard planes was so good that face masks “didn’t add much” to making passengers safe from the risk of COVID-19 infection.
The Senate Commerce Committee hearing, titled ‘Oversight of the U.S. Airline Industry’, had just taken testimony from Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly who had questioned the need for passengers to wear face masks on airplanes.
In response to Kelly’s comments about the quality of cabin air and the additional protection of face masks, Parker told the committee: “I concur”. It appeared that he concurred with all of Kelly’s points, including the effectiveness of face masks.
American Airlines quickly tried to distance itself from Kelly’s opinion about face masks but that in itself wasn’t enough to prevent Parker from taking flak over the issue.
“We had a great hearing with the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday, with bipartisan agreement that the Payroll Support Program is a success and provided remarkable benefits to the U.S. economy,” Parker said in a statement released on Thursday.
“Unfortunately, I should have been clearer in my response to one question that has led to a misrepresentation of American’s position on the mask mandate. During an exchange about the quality of aircraft cabin air, I agreed with my fellow CEOs that being onboard a plane is proven to be a safe and healthy indoor environment.
“I did so by saying, ‘I concur’, and then talked about air quality. I didn’t mention masks or the federal mask mandate, but my concurrence was ambiguous and it is my fault for not being clearer in my response.”
The federal face mask was recently extended through March 18, 2022. Infection rates are currently on the rise and the United States is bracing itself for an Omicron surge. Public health experts continue to implore people to face masks in public settings to keep infection numbers as low as possible.
“We support the federal mask mandate. Full stop,” Parker continued. “It was issued by the TSA and in consultation with CDC and other health experts to protect the safety and well-being of our customers and team members. Our job is to enforce the mandate. We have an incredible team at American that does that extremely well and the overwhelming majority of our customer comply without issue.”
“We look forward to the day when there will be no federal mask mandate for air travel, because that will mean the pandemic is behind us. But today is not that day.”
Southwest Airlines has also said it will continue to enforce the federal face mask mandate but Kelly has not yet attempted to walk back his comments on the usefulness of masks onboard planes.
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.