American Airlines has said it is investigating after Senator Ted Cruz was photographed in apparent violation of its policy mandating use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic by all passengers and crew on Sunday, per CBS News.
Scientists believe flying on a passenger airline is relatively risky during the pandemic due to close proximity to other individuals and the potential the novel coronavirus won’t be sucked up and caught in the HEPA filters used to clean recirculated air in ventilation systems. Airports are also centers of in-person interaction where the virus can spread. According to the New York Times, medical researchers and airlines have identified several incidents of suspected transmission on flights.
Cruz was flying to Granbury, Texas to attend a GOP fundraiser on Sunday evening. A spokesperson for Cruz’s office told CBS that the senator was in fact in possession of a mask—something that’s unpopular in certain wings of the Republican Party—but he had merely removed it to drink a beverage, something that American’s policy makes an exception for. A coffee cup is indeed visible in one of two photos tweeted by Hosseh Enad, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee compliance analyst who wrote the photos were passed on by someone else he knew. However, a second shot shows Cruz hanging out at a gate, similarly mask-free.
In June, conservative personality and hardcore Donald Trump supporter Brandon Straka was removed from an American Airlines flight for refusing to comply with the policy, later painting himself as a martyr. The incident failed to deter the nation’s airlines from moving forward with industry-wide mask requirements and threatening to ban those who violated the policies with bans from flying until the end of the pandemic. Other recent changes have included halting the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages to passengers on flights and major reductions in capacity.
“We are committed to protecting the health and safety of all those who fly with us, and we are reviewing the details of this matter,” American told McClatchy DC in a statement.
Cruz vocally supported reopening shuttered Texas businesses as quickly as possible—the coronavirus has since surged throughout the state, which is setting near-daily records for newly confirmed cases and hospitalizations. But he did wear a mask while visiting a Dallas salon whose owner had reopened in defiance of health regulations in early May. Another photo tweeted by a right-wing account on Monday showed Cruz in similar attire while wearing a face mask, though it wasn’t specified where it was taken or when.
(However, photos of a man who certainly at least appeared to be Cruz violating a mandatory mask policy at DC’s Reagan National Airport were posted by a gossip website in mid-June; Gizmodo couldn’t immediately confirm whether that was Cruz or a man who just shared his distinctive hairline.)
We’ll update this post if American decides to take any action against Cruz in response, though something tells us the senator will face absolutely no consequences whatsoever other than mild public embarrassment.