Travel industry groups urge White House to temporarily drop predeparture test for vaccinated flyers

Feb 3, 2022

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Despite a public plea from nearly 30 travel industry groups asking the Biden administration to drop the predeparture COVID-19 testing requirement for vaccinated individuals entering the U.S. by air, there has been no indication the president intends to waiver on any arrival or predeparture testing practices.

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Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has required all inbound travelers (regardless of vaccination status) to the U.S. over the age of 2 to show results of a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country for more than a year, the decision made late last year to shorten the testing window has led to widespread criticism from global health, hospitality and airline organizations, citing flawed logic as they called on the government to follow the lead of the European Union.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, U.S. airlines have leaned into science and research to prioritize the health and safety of all travelers and employees. Studies now demonstrate that predeparture testing is not effective, but continues to hinder the recovery of international travel,” said Katherine Estep, a spokesperson for Airlines for America, the trade group representing North American airlines.

“We remain in regular communication with the federal government and encourage the removal of travel requirements that are no longer justified by current circumstances.”

The inbound testing window was shortened from three days to just one day in December.

Related: The US implemented a stricter testing requirement for air travelers: Here are 5 things you need to know

In January, the World Health Organization deemed international travel restrictions (such as testing) aimed at limiting the spread of the omicron variant a “failure,” citing their “ineffectiveness over time,” ultimately advising the “lift or ease of international traffic bans.”

Just yesterday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Airlines for America, the American Hotel and Lodging Association and 26 others penned the Biden administration to request the removal of any predeparture testing requisites for vaccinated passengers traveling to the U.S., which they said was “justified by the pervasiveness of COVID-19 cases in all 50 states, increased immunity and higher vaccination rates as well as new treatments.”

(Screenshot courtesty of Airlines for America)

In their letter, the authors encouraged U.S. officials to heed the advice of their European counterparts, noting the Council of the EU’s recommendation to remove intra-Europe travel restrictions, in addition to the United Kingdom eliminating its predeparture test requirement for vaccinated air travelers while reducing the burden for unvaccinated visitors.

Related: CDC providing free COVID-19 tests to returning travelers at select airports

“More than 74.3 million people have had COVID-19 in the U.S., meaning that at least 22% of the population has had the virus (though this figure is almost certainly an underestimate due to the number of asymptomatic infections and limited testing early in the pandemic),” the letter reads. “Clearly COVID-19 is widespread throughout the U.S. and attempts to control its importation via air travel under today’s circumstances are unlikely to change that fact.”

Interestingly, the groups leave the door open for arrival testing rules to be reimplemented in the face of a new variant.

“No new threatening variants appear to be imminent, but if they were, predeparture testing could be easily reinstituted,” they said.

The White House declined to comment for this article.

For now, at least, all passengers age 2 and older traveling to the U.S. by air must submit results of a negative COVID-19 test (PCR or antigen) taken within one day of departure.

Related: UK ends COVID-19 testing for vaccinated arrivals and reduces testing for unvaccinated travelers

Featured photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

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