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Southwest's CEO disagrees with states ending mask mandates, says some pandemic-era changes are here to stay

March 15, 2021
3 min read
Southwest's CEO disagrees with states ending mask mandates, says some pandemic-era changes are here to stay
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Wearing a mask or face covering is the best way to protect oneself and others from COVID-19, according to most public health experts. But that hasn't stopped them from becoming politicized and controversial.

Earlier this month Texas and Mississippi controversially lifted their public mask mandates and allowed businesses to reopen at 100% capacity, despite the ongoing pandemic. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did, however, say that people should still choose to wear masks.

"Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility and caring for your family members, friends and others in your community," Abbott said, according to CNN. "People and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate."

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Gary Kelly, CEO of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, said on Monday that he thinks masks should still be worn in public, regardless of any state's policies.

"I'm a huge believer in wearing a mask. I think every individual needs to do his or her part to help crush this pandemic," Kelly said during an online forum hosted by the Washington Post. "I don't think it's too much to ask people to do that. You're protecting others and you're protecting yourself."

"Until the pandemic is over, yes, we should absolutely continue to physically distance, as much as we can, and wear masks as much as we can," he added.

Although U.S. airlines have each individually imposed mask requirements since last spring, a federal mandate for mask use on airplanes was only instituted in January, shortly following President Joe Biden's inauguration.

Despite ongoing political tensions, Kelly said that he has not gotten any pushback against mask requirements from Southwest employees.

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"We've got about 55,000 employees and they reflect the population at large," he said. "So you have varying views, but I think our people understand that we're a family here and we're trying to look out for everyone's best interest."

Passengers, however, are another matter.

"Now, every day we'll have a customer who objects to wearing a mask," Kelly said. "And I respect that, but we're in charge of the airplane and making sure that people are safe, and when you're on our airplane, you've got to wear the mask."

Kelly's comments come on the heels of a three-week period that has seen an increase in travelers and in forward bookings. As vaccination ramps up around the country — President Biden said last week that all Americans will have access to the vaccine by May — those increases are expected to continue.

But even as restrictions lift and travel resumes, Kelly said that some pandemic-era changes are here to stay.

"We refresh the air in the cabin every two to three minutes. We have very intense deep cleaning protocols, and those things won't go away just because the pandemic is declared ended," he said. "So I think it just remains to be seen what role masks play in an enclosed environment like that."

Featured image by 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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  • 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
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    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

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  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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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.

Pros

  • 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