A senator just introduced a bill to require COVID-19 vaccinations for domestic flights

Oct 1, 2021

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A U.S. senator wants to require all travelers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a negative test to take a domestic flight.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, introduced a bill earlier this week that would require all passengers on domestic flights to be fully vaccinated or have proof they’ve recently tested negative or have fully recovered from COVID-19. (Travelers flying back into the U.S. from abroad are already required to show proof of a negative coronavirus test).

The bill, called the  U.S. Air Travel Public Safety Act, would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Federal Aviation Administration to develop “national vaccination standards” for air travel.

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“We know that air travel during the 2020 holiday season contributed to last winter’s devastating COVID-19 surge. We simply cannot allow that to happen again,” Feinstein said in a statement on Sept. 29.

“Ensuring that air travelers protect themselves and their destination communities from this disease is critical to prevent the next surge, particularly if we confront new, more virulent variants of COVID-19.”

The White House’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, made waves in September after saying he would support a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel (but also said he wasn’t proposing a plan).

Several airlines have already begun requiring their employees to be vaccinated. United Airlines said more than 99% of its employees were now fully vaccinated after the airline said it would fire employees who did not comply with the mandate or didn’t have a medical or religious exemption. And now, travelers — as well as the travel industry — are gearing up for November, when the U.S. reopens to fully vaccinated foreigners.

But requiring proof of vaccination (or testing) is likely to draw the ire of the travel industry, which has long said that COVID-19 vaccinations should not be mandated for domestic air travel. Earlier this year, the Biden administration floated the idea of a domestic testing mandate before quickly walking it back after backlash from the industry. TPG reached out to Airlines for America (A4A), the trade organization representing the airline industry, for comment on Feinstein’s bill but did not hear back in time for publication.

But this was before the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant, which fueled a surge in positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths this summer in the United States.

While figures have begun to drop, so have COVID-19 vaccinations.

Daily doses administered in the U.S. have sharply dropped: After a mid-April high of 4.6 million doses, the U.S. is averaging just under a quarter of a million new doses a day right now. Currently, 56% of Americans are now fully vaccinated, and 75% of Americans have received at least one dose.

Many travelers, however, support a domestic vaccine mandate. According to a survey conducted by the points and miles website Upgraded Points, 75% of travelers say proof of vaccination should be required to fly on an airplane.

More than half of respondents said only vaccinated travelers should be allowed to travel domestically.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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