A man is given a COVID-19 nasal swab test at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) amid a coronavirus surge in southern California on December 22, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Mario Tama | Getty Images
The US started this week requiring travelers to show negative Covid-19 tests before flying to the US from abroad.
Now the Biden administration is actively “checking” whether Covid-19 tests should be carried out before domestic flights, a high-ranking official from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.
The airlines refused.
Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, asked on a quarterly Thursday, “Why choose air travel?
“If you want to test people, test them, but test them before they go to the grocery store. Test them before they go to a restaurant,” Kelly said. “Test them out before you go to a sporting event.”
On Wednesday, the US Travel Association, an industry group that represents major hotel chains, Airbnb and several airports, said the plan was “unfeasible” as the availability of Covid tests across the country varied widely.
The CDC did not respond to a request for comment. Dr. Marty Cetron, director of global migration and quarantine at the CDC, told reporters he was considering more travel rules but didn’t say it would definitely require domestic testing.
The travel industry, and airlines in particular, are among the companies hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Travel restrictions aimed at preventing the disease from spreading around the world and concerns about infection with the virus have destroyed demand. U.S. airlines this week said they lost $ 34 billion last year. Delta Air Lines and American American reported record annual losses, and Southwest posted its first annual loss since 1972.
Domestic testing requirements could further impact bookings, which airline executives warned this week that are unlikely to recover until more people are vaccinated.
“In the short term, a domestic testing requirement could further dampen the demand for travel and create confusion as the number of cases dwindles,” Savi Syth, airline analyst Raymond James, wrote in a note Thursday. “We believe the trial offering will be an obstacle to such an order in the short term and believe that trial enforcement is more likely by the summer when vaccine distribution is more widespread and testing capacity is greater.”
Airlines have rolled out staggering fare sales, touting on-board filtration systems, more thorough cleanings, strict mask requirements, and other safety measures in the hopes of making travelers feel safe to fly.
The testing requirements for domestic flights appear “something that would be both difficult and would lead us to test Americans on planes that we all know are safe,” said Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines, on Thursday with a quarterly profit call. “We will of course work with the administration, which they think makes sense … but also let them know what impact this would have on travel.”
Airlines have backed international testing requirements, although airline executives are hoping they will replace blanket travel bans, a move former President Donald Trump took before stepping down from office this month. However, new, more contagious strains of the virus prompted the Biden administration to renew Trump’s entry bans on most non-US citizens who recently visited the UK, Brazil and much of Europe, and added South Africa to the list.