Travel coalition warns against testing requirement for domestic flights

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Runway to Recovery notes that studies have shown planes to be safer than other tight, indoor environments.
Runway to Recovery notes that studies have shown planes to be safer than other tight, indoor environments. Photo Credit: Viktor Gladkov/Shutterstock.com

A federal requirement that travelers show a negative Covid-19 test in order to fly domestically would be 17 times greater in scale than the current testing requirement for incoming international flyers, according to a coalition of travel organizations. 

"The negative and unintended consequences of a domestic air travel testing mandate would far outweigh any potential benefits that could come from trying to make a provenly safe activity even safer," asserts the Runway to Recovery coalition in a new policy paper. The organization includes 23 travel industry advocacy groups and stakeholders, including ASTA, the U.S. Travel Association, IATA, Airlines for America and the Global Business Travel Association. 

Release of the paper follows Sunday media appearances by DOT secretary Pete Buttigieg in which he stated that the CDC continues to contemplate requiring testing for domestic flyers.

According to Runway to Recovery, the implementation of international testing requirements has resulted in demand drops of 31% to 48% depending on the market. The group said it would expect an even greater decrease in the domestic market, since tests would be a larger percentage of the total travel cost. 

The group also argued that testing on international flights is manageable because there are currently less than 700 international departures per day. However, there are more that 12,200 domestic U.S. flights daily. 

Implementing the policy, said the travel groups, would require a 42% increase in U.S. testing capacity. 

"If testing is required for air travel, it sets an unachievable precedent that mandatory testing should be implemented for all closely confined public activities -- including other modes of public transportation, going to the grocery store or indoor dining," the group said. 

They also cited studies that have shown planes to be safer than other tight, indoor environments.

"Universal testing on such a broad scale is simply not feasible. If testing mandates are pursued, policies should start with the highest-risk activities," says the policy document. 

Airlines and the larger travel industry have been largely supportive of the testing requirement for arriving international passengers that went into effect on Jan. 26, having lobbied for months that testing should replace more restrictive measures, such as quarantines and border closures. 

But the coalition said a domestic testing requirement for flights would shift travel to what it called higher-risk options, including cars, buses and trains. The group also said such a policy would cost travel industry jobs and disproportionately impact low-impact households without producing meaningful health benefits. 

In late January, Marty Cetron, the CDC's director for global migration and quarantine, said that the Biden administration is "actively looking" at expanding mandatory testing to travelers on U.S. domestic flights.

"We realize that there's been a dramatic evolution and increase in both testing platforms and testing capacity," Cetron said at the time. "I think this is a really important part of our toolkit to combat this pandemic."

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