The following is a transcript of an interview with United AIrlines CEO Scott Kirby that aired on Sunday, September 19, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We go now to United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, who joins us from State College, Pennsylvania. Good morning to you.
CEO OF UNITED AIRLINES SCOTT KIRBY: Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: United has said 90% of your employees are vaccinated following your mandate. What about contractors and for someone buying a ticket on your airline? How confident can they be that they won’t run into someone unvaccinated?
KIRBY: Well, there are a lot of people that work in the airports that don’t yet have a vaccine requirement, though the administration’s role is going to ultimately take care of that. But one of the things that’s important when you’re traveling on an airplane, particularly once you’re on the airplane, it’s really the safest place you can be because the airflow on an airplane, the safest place you can be indoors. And so, wear your mask in the airport. That’s a rule. And- and before long, we’ll have everyone in the airports vaccinated thanks to the administration’s order.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the Delta variant is causing problems in terms of people’s willingness to buy tickets to get on planes. Your company announced that you’re going to lose money the next two quarters. Why aren’t people flying?
KIRBY: Well, the Delta variant has obviously caused a downturn in travel, it’s particularly business travel. A lot of offices were expecting to be open again in September, and the Delta variant has pushed those opening dates back a few months. My guess is it will now be January. It appears that we’ve peaked in cases. Let’s hope that that’s the case. Let’s hope that as we continue to get more people vaccinated, we really can get back to normal across the country. But the demand recovery is really- has probably been pushed back to January.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll watch and see. Would you advise the administration that they roll out another wave of mandates, this time for passengers? You know, if TSA screened you to make sure you’re not hurting your other passengers, potentially should they also check your card to see if you’re vaccinated?
KIRBY: Well, I think the administration is doing a really admirable job of trying to find all the levers to push to get the whole country vaccinated, and they have really gotten better data and science.–
MARGARET BRENNAN And they’re discussing this, should they do it?
KIRBY: They- you hear it sometimes. But I think the administration’s perspective has been that getting people vaccinated at work, it’s a one shot and you can really get a whole bunch of the country. You can get a high percentage of the country as opposed to making it a burden on people that are vaccinated every time you get a plane, a train, any kind of public transportation to prove that you’re vaccinated. So, for now, I think their approach of focusing on the employment and focusing on work is probably the right way to go. But they’ve got great data and science, and if they tell us that they want us to check everyone, we’re prepared to do that as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: When it comes to data and science, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, has argued that the Biden administration’s travel restrictions that they’ve kept in place on Europe, on India and China, other countries, they don’t really work. Have they given you a timeline on when those restrictions will be lifted?
KIRBY: They haven’t given us a timeline specifically, but they do talk to us a lot, and I think they’re just trying to take a cautious approach and really put safety first as they go through the crisis. And given the case rates in Europe and the US are similar in the high vaccination rates higher in Europe, actually. I’m hopeful that we’ll get those borders, particularly to Europe, open soon, but they’re following the data and the science. But we hope that- that as- as cases come down, that that’s something that will happen soon.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that’s a political decision?
KIRBY: I really think that they’re just focused on trying to do the right thing here, and this is a lot of uncertainty around what it means, and I think they’re just focused on the right thing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of what’s being debated here on Capitol Hill. There are two huge bills, one of them, this $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, it’s got funding in airports included into the package. How necessary is it and how would you want that money to be programmed? What do you need it for?
KIRBY: Yeah, so I am very supportive of the entire infrastructure package, as is most of the business community. It’s a great opportunity to invest in America coming out of- out of this crisis. At airports, you know, you can fly around and see the airports. It’s been a long time since we’ve had real investment in the airports. Our air traffic control system, you know, still flies in a lot of ways the same way we flew 50, 60 years ago. And there’s real opportunities to make it more efficient and it’d be good for the economy, good for customers, really kind of good for society as a whole.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you’re for the 1.2. When it comes to the $3.5 trillion spending bill, there’s also some climate change related provisions tucked into it. We talked about that with Sen. Sanders. But for you in private business, is it just so expensive to make some of these changes on your own that you need American taxpayers to provide tax credits and to provide incentives for private businesses to go green?
KIRBY: Well, particularly for the climate change initiatives, we do need government support, really to fund the investment. If you look at solar and wind, 20 years ago, they couldn’t compete with coal or natural gas, and today it’s cheaper. That’s because the government provided credits to give certainty to invest in the industry, and that’s what we need for things like sustainable aviation fuel. This really is an opportunity in America to drive investment, drive the next generation of great jobs that can be green, but also great jobs, great technology that we can export around the world.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, for you, the benefit outweighs the risks here of spending that much money.
KIRBY: Well, the climate change elements are a part of the $3.5 trillion so the climate change elements in particular, and I don’t know 100% of what they are, but the ones I do know about, I’m very supportive of and hope that they pass either in this bill or somewhere else.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll watch. Thank you, Mr. Kirby, for your time this morning. We’ll be right back.
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