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White House Distances Itself from Pre-Departure Testing Mandate for Domestic Air Travel

White House Distances Itself from Pre-Departure Testing Mandate for Domestic Air Travel

The White House has stepped back from plans to make passengers on domestic flights take a pre-departure COVID-19 test, sources who are said to be familiar with the matter have told Bloomberg. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been actively considering the idea after President Biden issued an executive order demanding proposals on how to strengthen the safety of both domestic and international air travel.

Airlines and unions had reacted with fury to the idea, saying it would decimate travel demand, divert much-needed testing resources from where they were required, and drive travellers onto other modes of mass transit that weren’t as safe as air travel.

A similar, already implemented rule that requires international travellers to obtain a negative COVID-19 test certificate within 72-hours of departure to the United States had resulted in a nearly 50 per cent drop in demand according to Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA).

The union also claimed that a domestic testing mandate would require a 42 per cent surge in testing capacity. “This would present a waste of critical resources as air travel accounts for a small number of COVID-19 transmissions,” the union claimed on Friday.

Southwest Airlines chief executive Gary Kelly had already warned earlier this week that domestic testing would “put jobs at risk” while Delta CEO Ed Bastian described domestic testing as “a horrible idea”.

A domestic testing mandate, however, is no longer under close consideration the CDC announced in a statement on Friday. “At this time, CDC is not recommending required point of departure testing for domestic travel,” the agency explained.

“As part of our close monitoring of the pandemic, in particular the continued spread of variants, we will continue to review public health options for containing and mitigating spread of COVID-19 in the travel space,” the statement continued.

The chief executives of major several major U.S. airlines including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines were said to have had a “productive” virtual meeting with the White House Coronavirus coordinator on Friday.

“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,” commented Nick Calio, chief executive of the Airlines 4 American trade group which also represents the likes of Southwest, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian.

Neither Airlines 4 America or the White House commented on whether domestic pre-departure testing had been discussed during the meeting.

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