Travel group asks White House to lift some COVID-19 test requirements for vaccinated passengers

Photo (c) Anton Petrus - Getty Images

Some global health officials agree, but the CDC is standing pat

Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization representing United, Delta, American, and other major U.S. airlines, is spearheading a drive to have the requirement for pre-departure testing for vaccinated passengers traveling to the United States completely removed.

In its letter to Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, A4A argued that a lower pervasiveness of COVID-19 cases in all 50 states, increased immunity, higher vaccination rates, and new treatments make some testing unnecessary.

“Removing the requirement will greatly support the recovery of travel and aviation in the United States and globally without increasing the spread of COVID-19 and its variants,” wrote the 29 groups behind the effort. 

What the group is asserting

To support its pitch, A4A pointed out several things:

We have to deal with the fact that COVID-19 has become a part of everyone’s lives. The group stated that attempts to control COVID-19’s importation via air travel under today’s circumstances are unlikely to change the fact that the pandemic is literally everywhere. “No new threatening variants appear to be imminent, but if they were, pre-departure testing could be easily reinstituted,” it stated.

The EU has already made a similar move. A4A's second contention is that the European Union has recommended that its countries remove intra-Europe COVID-19 travel restrictions, and the United Kingdom has announced the removal of COVID-19 pre-departure testing for vaccinated air travelers to enter the country. The group asked Zients to look at what the UK discovered when it faced the same situation.

“It concluded that the cost to both passengers and airlines of the testing mandate could no longer be justified as there was no evidence the regime protected the population from COVID,” the group's letter read.

The WHO agrees with A4A's position. While the White House probably favors studies and conclusions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the group suggested that officials look at what the World Health Organization (WHO) has to say about the situation.

“The WHO recommends that states consider a risk-based approach to the facilitation of international travel by lifting measures, such as testing and/or quarantine requirements, for individual travelers who are fully vaccinated, at least two weeks prior to traveling, with COVID-19 vaccines listed by the WHO for emergency use or approved by a stringent regulatory authority,” A4A stated.

Pre-departure testing is hurting international travel. “Surveys of air passengers indicate that pre-departure testing is a leading factor in the decision not to travel internationally,” the group claims. “People simply are unwilling to take the chance that they will be unable to return to the U.S. at the end of their business trip or vacation. As a result, international travel in 2021 was 75 percent below 2019 levels.”

“Till further notice” for international travelers

The group may not get a response anytime soon, so international travelers will have to continue proving that they are healthy before setting foot on a plane. The CDC’s basic requirements for international travel are that:

  • Travelers need to get a COVID-19 viral test (regardless of vaccination status or citizenship) no more than 1 day before they travel by air into the United States.
  • Travelers must show their negative result to the airline before they board their flight.
  • For travelers who recently recovered from COVID-19, they may instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19 (i.e., a positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel).

While test providers say the turnaround time for test results is a matter of hours, that promise may come with a precaution. Take CVS, for example. On its COVID-19 testing website, the company says rapid-result (PCR) results can be provided "within hours." However, it also hedges that statement by stating that high demand at labs "can lead to delays in turnaround times."

One ConsumerAffairs reviewer found out about that proviso personally. “BEWARE those who are considering CVS for their Covid test results for travel,” wrote Pooja from Enola, Penn. “I am so disappointed with CVS on Covid testing, better look for other options if you are traveling and a negative Covid test is a requirement for boarding the flight.”

Pooja said they gave CVS their swab on Saturday at noon and had mentioned that it was for travel purposes. They were assured that they would receive the test results by Monday afternoon for an evening flight. You can guess what came next.

“But [I] didn't receive the test results until midnight. I had to reschedule my international travel because of this delay of CVS and had to pay the fare difference.”

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