American Airlines Reached Out to Sen. Ted Cruz After He Was Spotted Not Wearing Mask on Flight

A spokesperson for the senator says there's a clear explanation for why Cruz wasn't wearing a mask when the viral photo was taken

U.S. President Donald Trump Hosts Members of the U.S. Congress at the White House
Sen. Ted Cruz. Photo: Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty

American Airlines says it has reached out to Sen. Ted Cruz's office about the importance of wearing a face mask while traveling after a photo of the Republican lawmaker showed him not wearing one — only momentarily, he says — while aboard a flight Sunday.

The photo of Cruz, 49, went viral on Twitter and showed the senator sitting without a mask on, holding a coffee cup and looking down at a phone. Another photo seemingly from the same trip showed him in line, apparently waiting to board, also not wearing a mask.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people "wear a cloth face covering in public" while traveling, in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19. American Airline's guidelines also require passengers to wear a mask at all times — with some exemptions, including for those who remove their mask to eat or drink.

A spokeswoman for Cruz says the senator was taking a drink at the time the viral plane photo was taken.

“To help promote safety, Senator Cruz wears a mask when traveling, and practices social distancing where possible," spokeswoman Lauren Aronson said in a statement. "Consistent with airline policy, he temporarily removes the mask while eating or drinking. On Sunday during his flight he removed his mask to drink and put it back on afterward. We should all practice common sense measures to slow the spread of the virus.”

Another image shared online — that seems to be from a different flight, as the planes look different — shows Cruz wearing a protective face mask aboard a flight. It was not clear when that photo was taken.

The viral image showing Cruz without a mask was shared by Hosseh Enad, a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps boost Democratic candidates in races for the House of Representatives; Enad's job drew some suggestion that his tweets were politically motivated.

He tweeted that a "friend of a friend" posted the images.

A spokesperson for American Airlines confirmed with PEOPLE that Cruz took a flight on Sunday with one of its domestic regional partners and that its mask policy does not apply to those momentarily removing their mask to eat or take a drink.

“For the well-being of our customers and team members, we require face coverings to be worn onboard, and we expect our customers to comply with our policies when they choose to travel with us," the airline's spokesperson said. "As we do in all instances like these, we reviewed the details of the matter, and while our policy does not apply while eating or drinking, we have reached out to Sen. Cruz to affirm the importance of this policy as part of our commitment to protecting the health and safety of the traveling public.”

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Sen. Ted Cruz in November 2018. Justin Sullivan/Getty

Cruz already had a run-in with the coronavirus in late February, when he attended the Conservative Political Action Conference along with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

An attendee at the conference tested positive for the virus, which led to Cruz self-quarantining in early March, days before COVID-19 shutdowns began making an impact on daily life in the United States.

Cruz said then that he quarantined “out of an abundance of caution” after having a “brief conversation” with the person who tested positive. He also said he shook their hand.

Cruz did not test positive.

“Sen. Cruz has repeatedly said since the start of the pandemic we need to follow the science, listen to public health experts, and take common sense steps to slow the spread of COVID19 and reopen our economy," his office said Tuesday. "That includes wearing face masks, washing hands, and social distancing where possible.”

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