The CEOs of two of America’s largest airlines said this week that they do not believe that the Biden administration’s continued mask mandate requiring travelers to wear masks while flying serves much benefit considering the fact that airplanes have advanced filtration systems that remove nearly all airborne contamination from the cabin.
The comments from American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly came on Wednesday during a Senate committee hearing on the financial support the industry received during the pandemic.
Both Kelly and Parker, who each have announced plans to retire as CEOs in the coming months, 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 think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” Kelly said. “It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”
Parker agreed, saying, “I concur, an aircraft is the safest place you can be.”
“It’s true of all of our aircraft — they all have the same HEPA filters and air flow,” Parker added.
A study conducted by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers last October found that there was low risk of transmission of the coronavirus on flights.
The report said:
With its focus on considerations aboard the aircraft, the phase one gate-to-gate report found that, through a layered approach to risk mitigation, the scientific evidence shows a low risk of SARS-COV-2 transmission on aircraft. The report provides evidence that it is possible to leverage technology and modify behavior to allow some near-normal activity while reducing the risks of disease transmission during the COVID-19 crisis.
Analysis from the report shows that ventilation of air on aircraft reduces the possibility of exposure to COVID-19, lower than other common settings, such as a grocery store or indoor restaurant. This effectively counters the proximity travelers are subject to during flights. Because of the frequent exchange of air and HEPA filters on planes, over 99% of the particles containing the virus are removed from cabin air.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) was reportedly enraged by the remarks that the two executives made, saying that he was “shocked” and that it was “immoral” that “we still allow unvaccinated people on planes.”
“I believe that the government has taken a very responsible approach to this,” Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said. “We believe it should continue to stay in place. It’s a workplace safety issue. We do need a consistent message though. It troubles me too to hear different messages. I would hope we are going to stay on the same messages and follow the medical experts and do what’s necessary to keep everybody safe.”