On Thursday, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker was obliged to write a long statement in an attempt to clarify comments he made during a Senate committee hearing about the effectiveness of face masks.
The soon-to-be-retired AA head seemed to imply that the cabin air quality onboard planes was so outstanding that face masks “didn’t do anything” to keeping passengers safe from COVID-19 infection.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly spoke at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing titled ‘Oversight of the United States Airline Industry,’ questioning the need for passengers to wear face masks on planes.
“I concur,” Parker said in response to Kelly’s comments regarding the quality of cabin air and the additional protection provided by face masks. He seemed to agree with Kelly on all of her points, including the efficiency of face masks.
American Airlines soon distanced itself from Kelly’s stance on face masks, but that wasn’t enough to save Parker from facing criticism over the matter.
“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.”
Recently, the federal face mask was extended until March 18, 2022. Infection rates are on the rise, and the US is ready for a wave of Omicron infections.
In order to keep infection counts as low as possible, public health officials continue to urge people to wear face masks in public places.
“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 stated that it will continue to enforce the federal face mask requirement, but Kelly has yet to retract his remarks about the utility of masks on planes.