US airline heads urge White House to lift testing, mask mandate for air travel

Mar 23, 2022

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In a letter sent to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, the leaders of major U.S. airlines urged the White House to lift the mask mandate during air travel, along with the requirement that people entering the country by air take a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of their departure.

The letter, which was sent by Airlines for America, the airline industry’s trade and lobbying organization, was viewed by TPG Wednesday afternoon. It was signed by major airline heads including American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, Southwest Airlines executive chairman Gary Kelly, Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci, Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram, JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes, Atlas Air CEO John Dietrich, FedEx Aviation CEO Scot Struminger and UPS Airlines president Brendan Canavan.

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“At the outset, we voluntarily implemented policies and procedures — mandating face coverings; requiring passenger health acknowledgements and contact tracing information; and enhancing cleaning protocols – to form a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk and prioritize the wellbeing of passengers and employees,” the airlines wrote.

“However, much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context.”

The airline executives argued that the predeparture test requirement had “outlived its utility,” citing the United Kingdom, European Union and Canada, all of which have lifted their versions of the testing requirement.

“The U.S. inconsistency with these practices creates a competitive disadvantage for U.S. travel and tourism by placing an additional cost and burden on travel to the U.S. Further, many outbound travelers are not willing to risk being stranded overseas.”

In terms of the mask mandate, the signatories cited studies showing low rates of transmission aboard aircraft due to air circulation and filtering, while citing that the improved availability of high-quality masks like N95s means that passengers who want to continue to wear protective face coverings have the option to do so.

“We are requesting this action not only for the benefit of the traveling public, but also for the thousands of airline employees charged with enforcing a patchwork of now-outdated regulations implemented in response to COVID-19,” the letter added.

You can read the full letter below.

The U.S. Senate last week passed a resolution that would end the federal mask mandate on public transportation. The resolution passed 57-40, with eight Democrats voting in favor, and one Republican voting in opposition. The resolution was expected to stall in the House.

The Biden administration earlier this month extended the mask mandate through April 18 — it was previously slated to expire on March 18.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as part of the extension, it would create new guidelines to dictate when masks would be recommended on public transportation, suggesting that the mandate could be lifted or revised by the deadline next month.

Read more: It’s official: Flights are about to get more expensive to offset spiking jet fuel prices

in late February, the CDC issued new guidance setting benchmarks to allow communities to loosen mask mandates. Every state has since lifted — or has announced plans to lift — most requirements for face coverings.

However, cases of COVID-19 are climbing in Europe and Asia, driven by the omicron BA.2 subvariant, and experts have said there may be similar trends in the U.S. Countries where cases are climbing are among those that have lifted various requirements for travelers.

In January, the federal government issued a 90-day extension of the public health emergency declaration surrounding the pandemic. The designation is currently slated to lift on April 16, two days before the extended mask mandate’s expiration.

It’s not clear whether it will be extended. If the emergency declaration is lifted, it would have sprawling impacts, including the potential expiration of emergency use authorizations for numerous vaccines and treatments, along with an end to some insurance payments for telehealth services.

Airlines for America letter to President Biden March 23 2022 by David Slotnick on Scribd

Featured photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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