Logistical nightmare: US carriers oppose testing for domestic flights

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The COVID-19 testing mandate for passengers on flights within the United States is receiving a backlash from the country’s major airlines. 

While the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering implementing the mandate to require negative COVID-19 test results for domestic air travel, airlines voice strong opposition to the new measurement. 

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian predicted that the new testing requirement would be a “logistical nightmare” that would not “keep the travelers safe”. He cited scarce testing resources, delays in the results and high prices as the main roadblocks for the mandate to work. Bastian also said that as airlines carry on average 1 million passengers a day, requiring domestic travelers to get tested would take away about 10% of the country’s already scarce testing resources. 

“I think it’d be a horrible idea for a lot of reasons,” said Bastian in an interview to CNN. “It would set us back another year in the recovery.”

On February 9, 2021, Delta Air Lines reiterated its commitment to keep blocking the middle seat through April 2021, in order to maintain social distance between travelers. In January 2021, the airline appointed doctor Henry Ting to be the airline’s first Chief Health Officer, saying that health and safety was a top priority during the COVID-19 crisis.

“There’s an active conversation with the CDC right now,” said the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “What I can tell you is, it’s going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out.”

“First and foremost, I would really encourage people to not travel,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House Briefing on February 8, 2021. “But if we are traveling, this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease the spread.”

On February 5, 2021, Sara Nelson, the head of Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA) warned the government of the United States that mandatory COVID-19 testing requirements for passengers prior to domestic flights could lead to potential bankruptcies among airlines. 

“Isolating the airline industry and not doing the same thing for mass transit or doing this at grocery stores or restaurants doesn’t make any sense as we have community spread,” said Nelson.


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