Travel leaders wary of requiring negative COVID-19 test before flying

Travel leaders say they support all efforts to rid the world of the coronavirus pandemic – except for a mandate that would require airline passengers to present a negative COVID-19 test before flying.

The CEOs of American, United, Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue airlines met with White House officials on Friday in a virtual meeting to discuss the proposal, and all of them – as well as key industry figures – say such a mandate would do more harm than good for U.S. carriers.

"We had a very positive, constructive conversation focused on our shared commitment to science-based policies as we work together to end the pandemic, restore air travel and lead our nation toward recovery," Nick Calio, head of the trade group Airlines for America, said in a statement.

The meeting was arranged after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that such a testing requirement was under consideration.

The Southwest Airlines pilots' union said a testing mandate "would decimate domestic air travel demand, put aviation jobs at risk, and create serious unintended consequences."

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said the high cost and low availability of testing make a domestic testing mandate a challenging concept to put into practice.

“Based on January 2021 data, a testing requirement for domestic air travel would necessitate a 42 percent increase in daily testing capacity nationwide—a substantial use of testing resources when air travel has already been shown to be safer than many other routine activities,” Dow said.

“The recent implementation of a mask mandate adds another enforceable layer of health and safety protection to the travel process. Scientific studies have shown that air travel can be safe as long as everyone carefully follows best health practices—wear a mask, practice physical distancing whenever possible, wash hands frequently and stay home if you are sick. We are also encouraging Americans to get the COVID vaccine as soon as it is available to them. These are the messages the travel industry has emphasized as part of our firm commitment to a layered approach to healthy and safe travel, and we will continue to do so.”

The American Society of Travel Advisors sent a letter to Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky asking the agency to “immediately issue guidance to the traveling public. The CDC’s numerous orders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have created confusion, uncertainty and unpredictability, a chilling effect on future bookings and innumerable other challenges for our travel agency members.”

Jenny Cagle, owner of Elm Grove Travel in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, also said she believes there is no need for a mandate.

“I am hopeful that this administration has heard the very well-articulated concerns of the travel industry and will choose to navigate the pandemic without a domestic travel mandate."

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