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Why Delta's CEO thinks mandatory COVID-19 testing for domestic flights is a 'horrible idea'

Feb. 10, 2021
4 min read
Why Delta's CEO thinks mandatory COVID-19 testing for domestic flights is a 'horrible idea'
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All travelers flying into the U.S. are now required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding — but the Biden administration is also "actively looking" at mandating negative tests for domestic travel.

And the travel industry isn't pleased.

In an interview with CNN, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian called the potential move a "horrible idea" that would not just "set the transportation industry back, but the whole hospitality sector."

And in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, Bastian said that travel -- already still at low levels -- would be "substantially reduced" if domestic testing were required.

Requiring COVID-19 tests for domestic travel could seriously discourage travelers, who may see it as an additional hassle during an already complicated travel experience.

It could also be a prohibitive expense for some people, who may need to pay an out-of-pocket fee if they aren't covered by insurance.

And, even now, finding a reliable place to get a timely COVID-19 test for travel is an ongoing challenge. In some parts of the country, it could still border on impossible.

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Bastian isn't alone in voicing his concerns about how potential test requirements for domestic travel could be a disaster for the industry and travelers.

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Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, released a statement in late January calling the potential move "unwarranted." The airlines also said the action would "disproportionately prevent" low-income and rural Americans who may not have access to pre-travel testing from traveling.

"Given the strong scientific evidence that the risk of COVID-19 transmission [on board] an aircraft is very low," A4A said in a letter to Jeffrey Zients, the White House's COVID-19 recovery team coordinator, "we believe that a testing requirement for domestic air travel is unwarranted."

TPG spoke to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last week about the proposal, and while he didn’t rule it out, he also implied it’s not imminent.

"There’s a conversation underway with the CDC on that," he said. "What I can tell you is that the guiding lights of that conversation will be a lot of engagement and dialogue and a lot of attention to evidence and data.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that most viruses don't spread easily on flights because of air circulation. However, the agency also noted that social distancing would be difficult on packed flights, and being in an enclosed space for hours "may increase" your risk of catching the virus.

Related: What it was like flying home now that the US requires a negative COVID-19 test

A CDC official told Reuters there are “conversations that are ongoing and looking at what the types and locations of testing might be. We’re actively looking at it.”

In President Biden’s first days in office, he introduced a mask mandate that requires masks to be worn while traveling domestically at airports, commercial aircraft, trains and public maritime vessels. The mask mandate also applies to intercity buses and on all forms of public transportation.

The U.S. government also issued new warnings to citizens about traveling internationally, saying that travelers should "reconsider nonessential travel abroad.”

Bottom line

There's a lot we don't know right now — including when a decision will finally be made one way or the other. We also don't know how a domestic testing mandate would be enforced or what modes of transportation would be affected.

But we can look to states that currently require a negative test prior to entry, such as Alaska and Hawaii, for a sense of what a COVID-19 test mandate for domestic travel might look like.

Featured image by AFP via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
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  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023