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CEOs of 2 major airlines question need for mask mandates, say 'case is very strong that masks don't add much'

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Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

CEOs of two major airlines spoke out and questioned the necessity of masks on flights, CNN reported.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and Southwest CEO Gary Kelly both made related remarks during a Wednesday Senate hearing on the financial support the airline industry has received amid the ongoing pandemic.

Masks are required on all American airliners per order of the federal government.

What are the details?

Both Parker and Kelly said that they don't believe masks make much difference when it comes to tamping down the transmission of COVID-19 and that advanced air filtration systems on airliners make them one of the safest places to be with regard to coronavirus infections.

The remarks were spurred by a question posed by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) during the hearing.

Wicker, ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, asked whether the company CEOs believed that masks ought to be mandated on airliners.

Kelly answered, "I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment. It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting."

Parker added, "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."

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, begged to differ and insisted that not all planes are equipped with the same air filtration systems.

"It is important to recognize that the safe, controlled environment on planes ... includes the HEPA filters that are not on all aircraft,” she said.

Both Parker and Kelly previously announced that they are retiring from their respective positions at the companies in 2022.

Anything else to know?

A study released in October from Harvard University's school of public health concluded that there is a low risk of COVID-19 transmission on flights.

A portion of the report states, "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."

The report continues, "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."

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