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WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) – The CEOs of two of the four largest U.S. airlines surprised Democrat members of the U.S. Senate when they testified that mask mandates are unnecessary on board commercial flights.

“The case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” said Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing. “It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”

“I concur,” added American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. “An aircraft is the safest place you can be.  It’s true of all of our aircraft – they all have the same HEPA filters and air flow.”

Although United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby didn’t address the utility of airline mask mandates, he was the first to speak about the unparalleled safety that modern commercial aircraft provide via high quality air filtration systems.

“The airplane is the safest place you can be indoors,” declared Kirby. “Safer, actually, than an intensive care unit.”

“We filter the air 20 to 30 times an hour and a typical ICU is two to three times an hour,” he explained. “Aircraft are a remarkably safe environment … being next to someone on an airplane, sitting next to them, is the equivalent of being 15 feet away from them in a typical building.”

“99.97 percent of airborne pathogens are captured by the HEPA filtering system and is turned over every two to three minutes,” agreed Southwest’s Kelly.

Even liberal CNN seemed to concur, reporting that “high-grade HEPA air filters on planes capture virtually all airborne contamination and air quality is helped by how frequently cabin air is exchanged with fresh air from outside the cabin.”

A Twitter user who describes himself as having a Biomedical engineering/cardiovascular biomechanics background quoted CNN, adding, “This is why the fear of COVID during plane travel is completely irrational.”

Lawyer4laws tweeted a brief video clip of the CEOs’ testimony.

Masks create tension and controversy on airline flights

In January, the New York Times described 2020 as “a year of perpetual chaos” for flight attendants, fueled primarily by the stringent masking requirements creating an “us versus them” – passenger versus airline personnel – and sometimes masked versus unmasked passenger – mentality.

The masks that airline travelers and employees are now required to wear have frequently been the cause of tension and controversy during commercial flights. Since the start of the pandemic, LifeSiteNews has reported the harrowing experiences of parents and children being kicked off flights because a 15-month-old, a two-year-old, a three-year-old with disabilities, or a non-verbal autistic four-year-old with a medical mask exemption can’t handle wearing a face mask.

“Even with documented proof of exemption, the situation is untenable for many,” Bethany Mandel wrote in an article for Deseret News detailing how many families have simply reserved themselves to the fact that they will be forced to continue to forgo airplane travel. “Many parents I spoke with feel a sense of desperation.”

“There have been more than 5,000 disruptive passenger reports sent to the Federal Aviation Administration since the start of this year,” Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told CNN last month. “That’s more disruptions in 2021 than the entire 31-year history of recording such behaviors. And we’re not even done with the year yet!”

She described why passengers sometimes explode on board commercial flights:

You have to go through security and practically undress to show that you’re not a threat. You can’t smoke – we did that ages ago. Everyone has to wear their seat belts and put their seats and tray tables up.

They also have to wear a mask from the moment they set foot in the airport until they leave the next airport at the end of their journey. And by the way, that’s no longer an airline policy, it’s been a federal requirement since February.

Despite the extraordinary high quality of the air cabin environment, not all airline CEOs agree that it’s time to dispense with the problematic mask mandates.

After other airline CEOs told senators that masks served no purpose on flights, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said that he does not agree: “Masks are going to be important as a safeguard for a while yet.”

Biden-appointed U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams also disagreed, saying, “It was irresponsible. It was reckless.”

“We need to have these mask mandates on planes,” claimed Adams, “because … they create confidence.”

“I was disgusted when I heard that,” he added.

The Biden administration recently extended the mandate that all air travelers over age two wear masks through at least March 18, 2022. Before that, it had been slated to end in January 2022. Many two-year-olds are still in diapers.

“Like many other mandates and restrictions stemming from COVID-19, there are no off-ramps and no urgency about moving back towards normalcy,” Mandel concluded. “It doesn’t just mean fewer family vacations; it means a second year of restrictions on our freedom of movement for virtue of having young children or disabled family members.”