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Will the mask mandate for flights be extended? Southwest CEO says airlines not pushing for it

Airplanes and airports are among the few remaining places where face masks are required, but they might not be after Sept. 13 if the rule isn't extended.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, chairman of industry lobbying group Airlines for America (A4A), said Thursday that Southwest and the trade group are not recommending another extension of the federal transportation mask mandate.

The mandate, which airlines and their unions requested to help with passenger mask compliance and to protect the health of flight crews, was put in place by President Joe Biden in January. The mandate, which applies to trains, planes and airports, buses and transportation hubs, was initially due to expire in May but was extended through Sept. 13, with the blessing of airlines.

Reports abound of passengers refusing to wear masks and becoming aggressive with flight crews.

Kelly, answering reporter questions during Southwest's quarterly earnings conference call, said airlines support following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on masks, which says vaccinated individuals don't need one but unvaccinated individuals should wear one.

Unless that advice changes, he said, "we wouldn't advocate from Southwest's perspective, or the A4A for that matter, extending the mandate."

Kelly said he doesn't know whether the mandate, enforced by the Transportation Security Administration, will be extended or lifted.

"That's a political question, to a degree," he said.

Kelly said the government is studying the matter, given the spreading delta variant, which has caused a spike in COVID-19 cases, but he is not aware of "any efforts underway" to extend the mask mandate.

The CDC has had no comment on the status of the mandate beyond Sept. 13.

"We can't comment on pending regulatory discussions as to the future of the order," spokesperson Caitlin Shockey said via email.

Kelly is the first U.S. airline executive to publicly express what is in effect support for letting the mandate expire, though United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said he expected it to be lifted in September.

"What they decide, we'll enforce," American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said earlier Thursday on the airline's quarterly earnings conference call. "It's not for us to opine."

Last week, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told Wall Street analysts and investors he didn't know the fate of the mandate.

He said there are as many "pros to taking the mask requirement off as there are to keeping it on at the present time."

"I think it's important that medical experts make those decisions, not airline professionals, as we've learned through the pandemic," he said on the airline's earnings call. "They're the ones that have all the insight and the information and keeping people safe. I appreciate people not wanting to wear the mask. I don't like wearing the mask when I'm on board either, but it's something that we need to do to keep each other safe."

Los Angeles County, the most populated county in the USA, will once again require people to wear masks indoors – regardless of vaccination status – after a surge in COVID-19 cases.

This article originally appeared on USA Today

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