Southwest CEO tests positive for Covid after unmasked Senate hearing with other airline chiefs

  • Senators quizzed executives during the more than three-hour hearing about flight cancellations despite billions in payroll support, vaccine and mask mandates and other topics.
  • Kelly, other witnesses and lawmakers didn't wear masks.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly has tested positive for Covid-19, the company said Friday. The news came after a Senate hearing in which he and other airline chiefs and lawmakers weren't wearing masks.

Kelly, along with the CEOs of United Airlines and American Airlines, Delta Air Lines' chief of operations, and the president of the country's largest flight attendant union testified for more than three hours at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday afternoon about $54 billion in federal payroll support airlines took to weather the pandemic.

"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," a Southwest spokeswoman said in a statement. "Gary is doing well and currently resting at home, he has been fully vaccinated and received the booster earlier this year. Gary's symptoms continue to be mild, and each day he is moving closer to a full recovery."

Delta's chief of operations, John Laughter, who testified in the hearing on Wednesday and sat two seats away from Kelly, tested negative Thursday and Friday.

"He will continue to test and take other precautions as necessary," the airline said in a statement.

American and United didn't immediately comment.

Air travel demand collapsed when the pandemic began but has since recovered, mostly thanks to domestic leisure trips. Executives from Delta and United this week said they are gearing up busy year-end holiday season, despite the spread of the omicron variant.

Senators questioned witnesses on recent flight disruptions, airlines' hiring trouble, 5G, as well as vaccine mandates.

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