Flight Attendant Union Chief Says Southwest CEO Supports Face Masks on Flights

CEO Gary Kelly testifying before Congress. | Image by Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

The head of the largest flight attendants’ union in the U.S. says that Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told her he supports a federal mask mandate for airline passengers, despite his testimony in front of Congress.

Kelly testified, “The environment is very safe, very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.” 

According to The Dallas Morning News, the union chief Sara Nelson said that Kelly told her that he supports the mask mandate regardless of his comments at a Senate hearing at Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The comments stirred doubts about whether face coverings actually improve COVID-19 protection on planes.  

“And Gary Kelly, after the hearing, came over and said that he was absolutely with me on the masks and that I should not take that any other way,” Nelson said to CNBC on Thursday afternoon as she tried to address the contradictory statement Kelly made. 

The union headed by Nelson does not represent flight attendants at Southwest Airlines. The airline’s flight attendants are represented by TWU 556.

Before President Biden issued an executive order that mandated the wearing of masks, Kelly and Southwest Airlines had been supportive of mask mandates, The DMN stated. The airline had required passengers to wear masks months before the executive order. 

The Southwest CEO’s comments on the masks were made after he explained how air filtration systems in commercial airplanes protect the environment from the spread of COVID-19.

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

Dallas-based Southwest said in a statement that the company continues to abide by the federal mask mandate for customers and employees within its environment and onboard all its aircrafts. 

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