On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation convened for a listening to entitled “Oversight of the U.S. Airline Industry.” Among the many many subjects mentioned through the three-hour panel dialogue, legislators requested airline CEOs to characterize the $54 billion in help they acquired beneath the Payroll Assist Program (cash effectively spent), whether or not inflation and labor shortages had been impacting the airline business (after all), and whether or not customers may count on better reduction within the type of refunds and diminished baggage charges (no).
Arguably probably the most eyebrow-raising revelations from the listening to got here from a five-minute interval during which the highest executives from main U.S. airways all appeared to indicate that the carrying masks on flights is basically pointless.
“Let me ask about air high quality,” mentioned Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who seized on a line from the opening statement of John Laughter, Delta Air Strains’ Govt Vice President & Chief of Operations: “We proceed to electrostatically spray our plane interiors with high-grade disinfectant and use HEPA air filters to take away 99.99% of airborne particles onboard.”
Wicker repeated the road and requested Laughter if the HEPA filters had been new “or there all alongside?”
“These are HEPA filters which might be a part of an plane circulation system. And I’d assume that our all fashionable airliners have those self same programs,” Laughter mentioned.
Wicker delved additional into this declare, noting Delta’s partnership with the “prime well being consultants on the earth” on the Mayo Clinic. “And what did they let you know concerning the high quality of air with respect to the virus, as in comparison with say, a theater, church, live performance corridor, maybe a listening to room? What do they let you know?” requested the senator.
“A part of the dialogue on the HEPA filters on board the plane was to grasp what that air turnover fee was, and the way the air high quality onboard the plane would evaluate to different amenities,” mentioned Delta’s COO. “I believe all of us typically agree now that the cycle of the best way air turns over in a pressurized air cabin, and the filtration system is superior to many indoor areas you could be.”
Wicker then requested United Airways CEO Scott Kirby if his airline supplied a equally protected setting on its planes.
Kirby spoke of partnering with the Cleveland Clinic and the way the Division of Protection examined airflow on United’s airplanes. “And the conclusion of that’s that successfully anyplace that you’ll be indoors, the airplane is the most secure place you could be indoors, it is due to the air filtration,” mentioned the United CEO.
Subsequent, Wicker deftly linked air filtration with the face masks mandate. “Will we ever, do you suppose, be capable to get on an airplane with out masks?” the senator requested of Southwest Airways CEO Gary Kelly and American Airways CEO Doug Parker.
Kelly echoed the opposite CEOs’ feedback on air high quality, noting that his airline companions with UT Southwestern and Stanford College of Drugs. “Yeah, I believe the case could be very robust that masks do not add a lot if something within the air cabin setting. It is vitally protected, and really prime quality in comparison with every other indoor setting.”
“I concur,” mentioned Parker. “The plane is the most secure place you may be. It’s true of all of our plane, all of them have these HEPA filters and the identical airflow.”
What got here subsequent was a swift and thorough factcheck from Sara Nelson, president of the Affiliation of Flight Attendants (AFA), a union representing 50,000 flight attendants on 17 airways.
The research the CEOs had referenced had been “executed with mannequins who had been sitting straight ahead with masks on, not eradicating them, not consuming at any time limit,” Nelson mentioned. “So you will need to acknowledge that the protected managed setting on the aircraft is a layered security protocol, which incorporates the sanitation of the plane and contains the service procedures and contains the HEPA filtration that isn’t on all plane by the best way, and it contains everybody carrying the masks.”
Wicker ignored the clarification on mask-wearing mannequins, however as a substitute requested which flights do and don’t function HEPA filtration programs.
“It differs from plane to plane,” mentioned Nelson. “So not all plane have the HEPA filtration.” Older planes usually didn’t, she added, “The flights that you just take to Mississippi, for instance.”
“We completely look ahead to the day that we now not have the masks requirement,” mentioned Nelson, “however not everybody on our planes have had entry to the vaccine but both.”
“I am shocked that among the CEOs right here at this time have steered that we now not want masks mandates on planes,” mentioned Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, noting the fast unfold of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. “Kids beneath 5 who nonetheless can’t be vaccinated,” he continued, “and we nonetheless enable unvaccinated individuals on planes to fly in our nation.”
Some well being consultants had been incredulous on the airways’ narrative. “Frankly, it’s so troubling that I don’t know the place to start,” mentioned Dr. Kavita Patel, a main care doctor in Washington, D.C., who served as an advisor on well being coverage within the Obama administration. “If there’s one factor that’s crystal clear, it’s that that is an airborne virus and, sure, air filtration issues however given the proximity of passengers on planes there’s little or no doubt that masks play a big position in decreasing transmission.”
“It is a office security situation,” mentioned Nelson on the listening to. “Though I shall be very clear that we do look ahead to the day that we will vaccinate the complete world and and get on with this and never need to have the masks mandate.”
The day after the senate listening to, Delta CEO Ed Bastien told CNBC he didn’t agree with the opposite airline executives’ evaluation on the masks situation. “Notably after we see omicron persevering with to enter into our nation, masks are going to be vital as a safeguard for some time but.”
The U.S. doesn’t conduct contact tracing for home flights, so there isn’t any method for Individuals to ever know whether or not they have been uncovered to Covid-19 on a home flight. However vacationers ought to perceive that flying with out carrying a masks through the pandemic can be a dangerous exercise, mentioned Dr. Patel. “Worldwide flights that haven’t had masks necessities have turn out to be superspreader occasions virtually akin to cruise ships,” she mentioned. “To state in any other case is irresponsible.”