Gary Kelly, chief executive of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has tested positive for COVID-19 a day after giving evidence at a Senate Commerce Committee during which he controversially questioned the effectiveness of face masks.
Kelly appeared before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on Wednesday to help explain how airlines, including Southwest Airlines, had suffered operational meltdowns over the summer due to staff shortages despite the fact that the industry had received $54 billion in taxpayer-funded payroll support over the course of the pandemic.
Senators delved into various subjects during the hearing including issues like the Biden administration’s face mask mandate for public transportation. Appearing before the committee bare-faced, Kelly suggested the mandate wasn’t required onboard commercial passenger jets.
“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin,” Kelly noted. “The environment is very safe, very high quality compared to any other indoor settings.”
Kelly tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and as part of contact tracing efforts informed executives from other airlines who had been at the hearing. Sources from those airlines leaked the information to Reuters who first broke the story.
Southwest Airlines confirmed Kelly had tested positive for COVID-19 after developing mild symptoms after the hearing. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson told us: “Although testing negative multiple times prior to the Senate Commerce Committee Hearing, Gary tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home, experiencing mild symptoms, and taking a PCR test.
“Gary is doing well and currently resting at home, he has been fully vaccinated and received the booster earlier this year. Gary’s symptoms continue to be very mild, and each day he is moving closer to a full recovery.”
On Thursday, American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker was forced to walk back comments he made at the hearing in which he seemingly agreed with Kelly’s views on face masks.
Parker said in a statement that he concurred with the quality of cabin air onboard modern jet planes but stood by the need for President Biden’s face mask mandate. Southwest Airlines says it will continue to enforce the mandate which was recently extended through March 18, 2022.
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.