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Southwest CEO Gary Kelly tests positive for COVID-19 after unmasked Senate hearing

Dec. 17, 2021
3 min read
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly tests positive for COVID-19 after unmasked Senate hearing
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Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, two days after appearing unmasked at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing with executives from other airlines.

The positive test was first reported by Reuters.

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Kelly first began informing close contacts of his positive test result on Thursday, a source familiar with the matter told TPG on Friday. Southwest disclosed the positive test after being approached by Reuters on Friday.

Kelly's symptoms were mild, a spokesperson for Southwest said.

"Although testing negative multiple times prior to the Senate Commerce Committee Hearing, Gary tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home, experiencing mild symptoms, and taking a PCR test," the Southwest spokesperson said in the statement. "Gary is doing well and currently resting at home, he has been fully vaccinated and received the booster earlier this year."

The spokesperson confirmed that Kelly's positive test result came on Thursday.

Kelly appeared unmasked at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday sitting between American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, who were also unmasked. Delta chief operating officer John Laughter and Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson were also at the table with Kelly.

Kelly's appearance drew scrutiny following the hearing after he seemed to question the value of the federal mask mandate in public transportation settings, including in airports and on board commercial aircraft.

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

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker appeared to agree with Kelly initially, but later clarified that he was only agreeing that cabin air is clean, emphatically stating that he supported the mask mandate.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian, speaking with CNBC on Thursday, took a different tone than his Texas-based counterparts, saying he still supports the mask mandate.

“I don’t know that I agree with Gary’s remarks, particularly as we see omicron continue to enter into our country,” Bastian said during an interview. “Masks are going to be important as a safeguard for a while yet.”

In a statement on Thursday following the hearing, Southwest said that it would continue to abide by the mandate.

“Southwest Airlines continues to abide by the federal mask mandate for customers and employees both within the airport environment and onboard all Southwest aircraft,” the statement said.

Southwest did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Friday following reports of Kelly's positive test.

United CEO Scott Kirby tested negative on Friday, according to a person at United Airlines familiar with the situation.

Read more: Mask mandates questioned during Capitol Hill hearing, but — in the end — airline CEOs hold the line

A spokesperson for Delta confirmed that Laughter tested negative on Friday. Nelson said in a statement that she planned to follow CDC guidance and test repeatedly over the next several days, while a spokesperson for American Airlines did not immediately return a request for comment.

"Get vaxxed, wear a mask, and be kind," Nelson added. "My dear friend is in the ER for days with her husband waiting on emergency surgery while in extreme pain, but there are no hospital beds and no way to get him the treatment he needs. This is not freedom. Only solidarity will get us there."

Featured image by Doug Parker, chairman and chief executive officer of American Airlines Group Inc., Gary Kelly, chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines Co., Scott Kirby, president of United Airlines Holdings Inc. testify during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on December 15, 2021. (Photo by Tom Brenner / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOM BRENNER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023