Southwest Airlines CEO has COVID after Senate hearing with fellow airline honchos

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  • Gary C. Kelly
    Chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, who claimed masks afford people little protection on airplanes, has tested positive for COVID-19 on the heels of this week’s Senate hearing with United, American and Delta honchos.

Kelly, who is fully vaccinated and boosted, tested positive “after returning home, experiencing mild symptoms, and taking a PCR test,” an airline spokeswoman told CNBC in a statement.

The statement said that the CEO had tested negative “multiple times” ahead of Wednesday’s hours-long Senate Commerce Committee Hearing concerning the $54 billion given to airlines to keep them afloat amid coronavirus, during which witnesses and lawmakers were unmasked.

Now “resting at home,” Kelly’s symptoms are still mild and he is consistently “moving closer to a full recovery,” according to the statement.

During the hearing, senators also inquired about the hiring difficulties faced by airlines, vaccine and mask mandates, as well as flight disruptions.

Though airlines started requiring mask usage in spring 2020, Kelly during the hearing suggested “the case is very strong that masks don’t add much if anything in the air cabin environment” due to onboard air filtration and circulation systems, according to CNBC.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker immediately said that he concurred but on Thursday, the airline said he was actually agreeing with “comments made by other witnesses about the high quality of aircraft cabin air, and did not intend to cast doubt on the necessity of face masks on planes,” CNBC reports.

Parker echoed the statement on his Instagram Thursday, noting the company does “support the federal mask mandate. Full stop.”

Other airline bosses at the hearing — including United CEO Scott Kirby, Delta COO John Laughter and Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson — sat at the same table at the hearing.

A source told CNBC that Kirby was still negative Friday, and Laughter tested negative on both Thursday and Friday.

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