Southwest Airlines CEO: Let Our Vaccinated Passengers Take Off Their Masks!

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly says he – and the airline lobbying group he leads – wants to see the federal transportation mask mandate end September 13 and he also says he believes airline passengers should be able to follow the same guidance set out by the CDC for everyone else – that no mask is needed if you’ve been vaccinated.

That would be cumbersome to enforce – think wristbands, for instance – but might actually encourage air travelers to get vaccinated.

In any case, enforcement might not be needed since the primary route of virus spread is from one unvaccinated person to another, which for most is an individual choice they’re making to remain at risk. Those choosing to get the vaccine, and protect themselves and others, shouldn’t have a cost imposed on them by other passengers unwilling to do so. And the paper and string that counts as a mask on board isn’t very protective in any case.

While Southwest’s Kelly is being reported as “the first U.S. airline executive to publicly state what is in effect support for letting the mandate expire” for comments made during the carrier’s earnings call, earlier this week United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told CNBC that he hopes the federal transportation mask mandate expires September 13 as well.

While American Airlines CEO Doug Parker dodged the question on his own earnings call this week, he has told American Airlines employees he expects the mask mandate to be lifted September 13 and that’s when the airline can serve alcohol in coach again.

Parker says “we’ve got to get to” September 13th, and that because most inflight incidents are over masks things are going to get even harder on board as that date approaches. In the meantime they’re seeing more passengers bring their own booze on board planes.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] At Congressional hearings this week, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said that masks provide little incremental benefit in air travel given the safety of the aircraft environment. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker chimed in, “I concur.” And has since been walking that back, though over the summer when virus prevalence was low he and the CEOs of United and Southwest were talking about ending the …. […]


  1. After this whole covid/mask/lockdown fiasco is over, I can’t imagine public approval will decrease worse than teachers and airlines.

  2. No justification is provided for stopping the mask mandate. Is it that a small number of incidents justifies this? Incidents will continue masked or not masked. The unmasked should be banned from flying.

    Unfortunately people will not accept an alternative solution which is that unvaccinated people can only fly with a negative covid test.

  3. “Cumbersome” to enforce? I believe you meant impossible to enforce.

    And you state “In any case, enforcement might not be needed since the primary route of virus spread is from one unvaccinated person to another, which for most is an individual choice they’re making to remain at risk.” Primary, yes, but fully vaccinated people still can spread SARS-CoV-2.

    The CDC states: “Risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection is minimal for fully vaccinated people. The risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from fully vaccinated people to unvaccinated people is also reduced.” Note that the CDC says “reduced.” Not impossible.

    Masks on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation protect children, immunocompromised people, and those that are unvaccinated.

    Masks are here to stay for a long time. Get used to it.

  4. Agreed. Those who want extra protection are welcome to wear an N95 mask to protect themselves. I routinely fly internationally and I am sick and tired of wearing a mask for 12+ hours when I have been vaccinated AND have a negative COVID test prior to flying. There is no scientific basis for a blanket mandate whatsoever.

  5. “No justification is provided for stopping the mask mandate.”

    @Francisco. Comrade, what about the “Science” your side has been using a political weapon for the last 1.5 years? Hmm? The “Science” has provided no real evidence that vaccinated individuals are spreading it and/or need to wear a mask. If morons don’t want to get vaccinated, that’s their problem and I’ll in favor of Darwinism.

  6. At Steve: you could get COVID again.
    I know several people (unvaccinated)
    who have had it twice. Not fun…..

  7. Covid is never going away. Its here to stay forever. The current vaccines will soon be worthless as the virus continues to mutate. It is beyond insanity that we continue this charade. Covid neede to be treated like every other virus. We have no choice as there is no cure for the virus. It will do what viruses have done for millions of years which is adapt to survive.

    People who want to mandate all these crazy measures are delusional and need to pull their heads out of their asses. Are we really supposed to get dozens of vaccines for each variant that finds away around the vaccines plus yearly booster shots for each vaccine? It is nonsense! It is not sustainable.

  8. Why not of abundance of precaution ban the alcohol on the planes? According to CDC: “Excessive alcohol use is responsible for more than 95,000 deaths in the United States each year, or 261 deaths per day. These deaths shorten the lives of those who die by an average of almost 29 years, for a total of 2.8 million years of potential life lost. It is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and cost the nation $249 billion in 2010.” … Wait, did we try that before ?

  9. @Bob not Bob–you need to think a bit more before you make the standard for safety that anything bad that might happen is “impossible”. It is possible that a great many bad things may happen to you and others every single second of your life. Car accidents, heart attacks, strokes, and yes (I don’t like to mention it on travel blogs) even airplane crashes. It is even possible that if you are so afraid you won’t even get out of bed that a great many bad or even fatal things are possible for you to suffer.

    It is way beyond time for the mask insanity to end.

  10. It’s misinformation to talk about the relatively few people who have died from the vaccine but not misinformation when every major news network runs stories about the relatively few young and healthy people (and even far fewer children) who have died from covid. Both are equally highly unlikely, but only one is labeled “misinformation”

  11. The CDC guidance saying masks no longer needed indoors is now widely regarded by health experts (and anyone with a brain) as a massive policy failure. It is helping to fuel the Delta surge fire. Anyone who is not going to get vaccinated, given a chance and the “honor” system, is not going to wear a mask, and has not been wearing one indoors outside of planes either. That much is obvious. So either start letting only the vaccinated fly (without masks is fine then if there is verification) or everyone should continue to mask indefinitely until the pandemic and its waves are really gone. I’m continuing to mask regardless because I don’t trust the people who don’t. Let’s be honest.

  12. @Larry You nailed it. These people that want to ditch the mask are the same ones that do not want to be vaccinated…In other words, they’re selfish. The vaccine not only helps you, it pays it forward to the next human being. Get on board people

  13. I say we make all the non-vaccinated Trumpers unable to participate in any parts of society. Ban them from travel, jobs, and social media. Since work camps would be hard to do legally and politically, that seems to be the best way to gain compliance.

  14. We need to make it inconvenient to be unvaccinated. We need to be requiring a vaccine card or recent negative test for all sorts of activities. It is nowhere in the Constitution or the Bible that people have an unalienable right to spread deadly diseases. The sooner we get the vaccination rate up the sooner we stop having hundreds die every day and fighting the mask wars.

  15. Until such time as the vaccine is made available to children under 12 and adequate time is provided for them to be vaccinated, the mask mandate needs to stay. It is unfair and inappropriate to subject children to the risk of Delta variant COVID-19 caused by unvaccinated adults. As an alternative, I’d be happy to see unvaccinated adults banned from all forms of commercial travel.

  16. @ Larry.

    It’s not going to be ‘gone.’ Not now, not next year, not ever. We need to live with it. Not a difficult concept for an intelligent person to understand.
    Masks are now worthless and only give comfort to the weak-minded.

  17. Kids under 12 have a statistically 0% chance of getting real sick or dying from Covid. More people have died from side effects of the vaccine than kids under 12 from Covid. Using the “protecting kids” argument is disinformation and Qanon level thinking. We keep being told the vaccines work and prevent you from getting sick or dying. Let’s trust the science and vaccine and not worry about if other people want the vaccine or not. If you are vaccinated, be confident it works. Or don’t be confident and stay quarantined.
    It’s a weird control thing by the maskers at this point.

  18. @Jerry. Kids under 12 cannot get vaccinated. That is a fact. For whatever reason, the FDA is dragging its feet on the emergency use authorization (latest reports are saying mid-winter before the authorization is granted). Children can and do get very sick (and die) from COVID. And Delta variant is more contagious. Why should they be put at risk because adults refuse to do what they should be doing? Like I said, ban unvaccinated adults or keep the masks.

    People dying from the COIVD vaccine (about 3):

    Kids having died from COVID (25 in the UK alone):

  19. @Jerry, not so:

    From the American Academy of Pediatrics, data as of 7/19/21: “4,087,916 total child COVID-19 cases reported, and children represented 14.2% (4,087,916/28,793,845) of all cases.” and “Children were 1.3%-3.6% of total reported hospitalizations, and between 0.1%-1.9% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.”

    I understand that “real sick” means being hospitalized.

    Kids are not immune to SARS-CoV-2.

  20. @jcil

    You should re-read my post. I said that enforcing an only the unvaccinated may skip the mask policy on planes is impossible.

    Masking is sanity.

  21. Still beating the anti-mask drum huh Gary? I notice your state is one of three that is contributing to 40% of the total daily new cases of covid cases for the entire country, so we shouldn’t be surprised. The reality is anti-vaxxers/anti-maskers will lie about vaccination status and will be the first ones on the plane to infect people. Also, vaccinated people can still get infected and spread the virus to others who are not vaccinated. Most importantly not everyone can get vaccinated. Children don’t have vaccines available to them and as this virus spreads to more and more people (cases going up in all 50 states now) there is more risk it will mutate into a strain that completely evades the vaccine and then we will really see the bodies pile up. Of course some hospitals are currently seeing more covid patients than at anytime prior in the entire pandemic. It is time to listen to the scientists not the travel bloggers. Really they should start thinking about banning unvaccinated people from planes or requiring covid tests results before allowing them on the plane. They put us all at risk.

  22. @Wesley The fact is the vaccines are incredibly effective. The reason the virus continues to mutate is because anti-vaxxers refuse to take the steps to stop the spread of the virus. They are the problem. I don’t see why the rest of us should have to concede that the virus will eventually mutate and people who did the right thing will be at risk of death again. It is time for the anti-vaxxers to start being penalized for their selfishness and their continued setting back of the country.

  23. Mr. Stalin:
    I suggest you read Martin Niemoller(and yes I know bout the 2 dots over the “o”)….

  24. @Airfarer: Perfect example of what I said. The antivaxxers/antimaskers will just continue to believe what they want to believe and do what they want to do, and will never be honest or realistic about it. The “masks are now worthless” argument is worthless. You don’t like being told to do something so you declare, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that it is worthless. This is exactly why we will need masks for years to come. The CDC advice was for the unvaccinated to mask. The reality is now the vaccinated need to continue to mask because the unvaccinated never will. You confuse care for your fellow human beings and yourself with weak-mindedness. Sad

  25. Other thing I am so sick of from the antimaskers is this: you confuse machismo for thoughtlessness, when in fact you’re just being a bunch of whiny p***ies. News flash: IT’S NOT THAT BIG A DEAL. Nobody ever died from wearing a mask. Lots of people died from not wearing one. I just flew 15 hours with masks on for all but half an hour and guess what, I survived. I had a good sleep. I breathed enough air. I enjoyed my food and booze, even if I put my mask back on as soon as I could. I talked to and made friends with my seatmate. Most of the time I barely noticed I had it one. I had a great trip and will have many more great ones– if you guys stop screwing everything up by refusing to vaccinate AND refusing to mask. You are the reason why we can’t have good things. If you’d just shut up and take some basic, human, thoughtful and logical minimal precautions, this country would be in much better shape instead of a cusp of the next wave. And we’d all be able to travel again with ease. You just don’t get it. You want to move on and live with the virus then get vaccinated, and mask when you are told you need to. That would have allowed the economy and borders to open up and stay open much more quickly and safely. Your whining that it’s so unfair and so hard is what is weak-minded. And Gary: you can’t just wish this thing away so we can all go back to normal and travel like it’s 2019 again. Just take a look at the statistics on infection rates. No way no how will this mandate be lifted in September, nor should it be.

  26. Why does everyone assume being anti mask is also anti vaccine? I am anti mask but have been vaccinated since early March. Nearly everyone I associate with quit wearing mask before Christmas if not during Summer of 2019 but I know most of these same people were vaccinated as soon as they became eligible. Your stereotype does not hold water. For those of you advocating mask to continue, and some of you saying for years to come. Make yourself happy and buy a life time supply of N95 mask. I don’t care what you do but leave the rest of us alone.

  27. I call BS. Congrats on your jab but there are still 30-40% of the eligible population in this country who aren’t vaccinated and most of them never will be. And most of those who never will be will never willingly wear a mask as recommended, and most of the people they come into contact with (like sitting on a plane) will never know. We are talking about tens of millions of stubborn, deluded potential virus carriers. They are now the ones fueling this thing indefinitely. So there is no way to “leave the rest of us alone” because these people are driving the continuation of the pandemic in this country. If you’re not outraged by that you’re not paying attention.

  28. @Bob Not Bob
    No masks are going away very soon. most people these days don’t even wear them and if they do they wear them half-assed.
    The public is getting tired of the Covidiots and their Fascism about a flu.

  29. @Bob – the Right wing mouth breathing insurrection-supporting Trumptards are the core of the anti-vaxx movement.

    So yes – there are plenty of Republicans who have gotten vaxxed, but a sizeable percentage of the party is the core of the problem. They love their lord and savior Tucker C and do as he says.

  30. @UA-NYC – the left wing mouth breathing Fake News-supporting Fauci cult are the core of the ever-masker movement.

    So yes – there are plenty of Democrats who don’t wear masks, but a sizeable percentage of the party is the core of the problem. They love their Lord Fauci and savior Joe Biden and do as they say.

  31. Okay if nothing else (and indeed nothing science or logic-based will work on the hardcore right-wing deniers), consider this: As a purely political platform, what is the wisdom and strategy of infecting and killing your own voters? If that is worth it to avoid inoculation and simple safeguards like wearing a mask, there really is nothing to talk about.

  32. @Larry: “…because these people are driving the continuation of the pandemic in this country.” It’s not a USA thing. It’s global and the same BS is carrying on worldwide, whatever the country, whatever the politics.

    @DarkStar: “…I suggest you read Martin Niemoller(and yes I know bout the 2 dots over the “o”)….” LOL. Niemoeller would be how to spell it if you can’t make the umlaut (ä=ae, ö=oe, ü=ue).

  33. @Kevin – let me guess, anti-vaxxer? Lol, there is no “ever mask” contingent, good try though. I’m hoping Delta then Gamma run roughshod through the Tucker Carlson anti-vaxx disciples out there. Darwinism baby.

  34. Not that those advocating wearing masks will do so, still I recommend they read the studies that show how effective masks are in stopping the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
    Why are they ineffective? Because the material in cloth masks is made in such a way that the openings between the fibers are too large to stop virus particles. The N-95 mask is the only effective mask, but almost no one other than health care workers wear it.
    I cannot provide the URL for such studies but Googling “Studies of the effectiveness of masks” should turn up useful, helpful articles.

  35. @Vazir Mukhtar

    As you suggested I googled ““Studies of the effectiveness of masks.”

    And I see that webpages and peer reviewed articles from the CDC, NAS, JAMA, EPA, and others agree that “Multi-layer cloth masks block release of exhaled respiratory particles into the environment, along with the microorganisms these particles carry.” And “Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns.”

    The studies do not say good cloth masks (multi-layer with nose clips) are perfect, nor are they as effective as N95 masks, but they all say that community use (such as on planes) of masks lowers transmission of airborne respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

    Until the pandemic is over, get your jab and wear a mask when indoors amongst strangers. Your friends, family, neighbors, and community will love you all the more for it.

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