Transcript: Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, in “Face the Nation”, September 19, 2021
The following is a transcript of an interview with United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby aired Sunday, September 19, 2021 on “Face the Nation”.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome to FACE THE NATION. Now let’s move on to United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, who is joining us from State College, PA. Hello to you.
UNITED AIRLINES CEO SCOTT KIRBY: Hello.
MARGARET BRENNAN: United said 90% of your employees are vaccinated as a result of your tenure. What about entrepreneurs and for someone who buys a ticket on your airline? How sure can they be that they won’t meet someone who is unvaccinated?
KIRBY: Well, there are a lot of people working in airports who don’t have a vaccine requirement yet, although the role of administration is ultimately going to take care of that. But one of the things that is important when you are traveling on an airplane, especially once you are on the airplane, is really the safest place you can be because the airflow in a airplane, the safest place you can be indoors. And so, wear your mask at the airport. It’s a rule. And – and shortly, we will vaccinate everyone at the airports thanks to the order of the administration.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the Delta variant is causing problems in terms of people’s willingness to buy tickets to get on the plane. Your business has announced that you will lose money in the next two quarters. Why don’t people steal?
KIRBY: Well, the Delta variant obviously caused a slowdown in travel, especially business travel. Many offices expected them to be open again in September, and the Delta variant has pushed back those opening dates by a few months. I guess it will be in January now. We seem to have reached a peak of cases. Hope this is the case. Hopefully, by continuing to vaccinate more people, we can really get back to normal across the country. But the upturn in demand is really postponed until January.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll look and see. Would you advise the administration to roll out another wave of warrants, this time for passengers? You know, if the TSA has checked you to make sure you don’t hurt your other passengers, should they also check your card to see if you are vaccinated?
KIRBY: Well I think the administration is doing a really admirable job of trying to find all the levers to get the whole country vaccinated, and they really got better data and science.
MARGARET BRENNAN And they’re discussing it, should they?
Kirby: They- you hear it sometimes. But I think the administration’s point of view has been that getting people vaccinated at work is a one-time shot and you can really get a whole bunch of countries. You can get a high percentage of the country instead of making it a burden on people who get vaccinated every time you take a plane, train, any kind of public transport to prove that you are vaccinated. So, for now, I think their approach of focusing on employment and work is probably the right way to go. But they have great data and science, and if they tell us they want us to check everyone out, we’re ready to do that as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Regarding data and science, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, argued that the Biden administration’s travel restrictions that they have maintained in Europe, India and in China, other countries, they don’t really work. Have they given you a timeline on when these restrictions will be lifted?
KIRBY: They haven’t given us a specific timeline, but they talk to us a lot, and I think they’re just trying to take a cautious approach and put security first as they go through the crisis. And given that the case rates in Europe and the United States are similar in higher vaccination rates higher in Europe, in fact. I hope we will open these borders soon, especially to Europe, but they follow the data and the science. But we hope that as the cases arise, it will be something that will happen soon.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think it’s a political decision?
KIRBY: I really think they’re just focusing on trying to do the right thing here, and there’s a lot of uncertainty as to what that means, and I think they’re just focusing on the good thing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the debates here on Capitol Hill. There are two huge bills, one of them, this $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, airport funding is included in the package. How much is needed and how would you like this money to be programmed? Why do you need it ?
KIRBY: Yeah, so I’m very supportive of the whole infrastructure package, as are most companies. This is a great opportunity to invest in America emerging from this crisis. At airports, you know, you can fly and see airports. It has been a long time since we had any real investment in airports. Our air traffic control system, you know, still flies in many ways the same way we flew 50 or 60 years ago. And there are real opportunities to make it more efficient and that would be good for the economy, good for customers, really good for society as a whole.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you’re in favor of 1.2. With respect to the $ 3.5 trillion spending bill, it also contains provisions related to climate change. We discussed this with Senator Sanders. But for you in the private sector, is it so costly to make some of these changes yourself that you need U.S. taxpayers to provide tax credits and incentivize private businesses to go green?
KIRBY: Well, especially for climate change initiatives, we 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. It is because the government has given money to give certainty to invest in the industry, and that is what we need for things like sustainable aviation fuel. It’s really an opportunity in America to drive investment, to generate 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 benefits outweigh the risks of spending so much money.
KIRBY: Well, the elements of climate change are part of the $ 3.5 trillion, so the elements of climate change in particular, and I don’t know 100% what they are, but the ones I know, I am. very supportive of and I hope they will pass either in this bill or elsewhere.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll watch. Thank you, Mr. Kirby, for your time this morning. We will be back immediately.