Newly inaugurated US president Joe Biden is considering making COVID testing mandatory on domestic flights. Director at the CDC, Marty Cetron, said the administration is ‘actively looking’ at such measures. The move would come as a killer blow to the already struggling aviation industry and airlines in the US.
Biden contemplates domestic preflight testing
It’s been just 24 hours since the new Centers For Disease Control (CDC) rules kicked in, mandating all passengers heading to the US get tested for COVID. Since Tuesday, anyone over the age of 2 must present a negative test result taken within three days of travel or show proof of recovery from the virus.
Now, it seems President Biden may be looking to expand this requirement to include domestic flights within the country also. As reported in Reuters, Dr. Marty Cetron, director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at CDC, spoke to reporters about COVID testing. When asked if there was a chance the requirement could be extended to domestic travel, he said there were,
“…conversations that are ongoing and looking at what the types and locations of testing might be… We’re actively looking at it.”
The news doesn’t come as a complete surprise. One of Biden’s major focuses, as he takes up the helm in the US, is to get control of the spread of the virus. Last week, he requested US agencies to issue recommendations to “impose additional public health measures for domestic travel” and noted new requirements for people crossing land borders would be considered.
Cetron said that the capacity and variety of tests at the disposal of US agencies was a “really important part of our toolkit to combat this pandemic.” While nothing is decided yet, the tone of the comments seems to suggest that domestic preflight testing is high on the agenda and could be implemented soon.
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What would this mean for airlines?
The US airline industry is already struggling against a tide of travel-reluctance, not to mention economic instability caused by the COVID crisis. Over the course of 2020, passenger traffic was down by 67%, setting aviation back some 20 years of growth.
Already, Biden has pledged not to lift the travel ban between the US and points in Europe and Brazil. He also added South Africa to the list, citing concerns over mutant variants seen in those countries. While likely a good move from a public health perspective, the news came as a further blow to the already struggling aviation sector.
The US airlines have begun releasing their financial results from 2020, shining a stark light on the challenges of last year. Delta lost more than $12 billion, United $7.1 billion, and planemaker Boeing lost almost $12 billion too. While airlines remain positive about an uptick in demand as we move through 2021, adding domestic testing requirements would be another blow to the schedules going forward.
The US domestic market has been somewhat resilient throughout COVID. Although figures remain depressed compared to those of the previous year, the holiday period saw TSA numbers jump to over a million passengers. The majority of these were traveling domestically.
For airlines, this has proven to be a lifeline to see them through the crisis. Adding preflight testing on domestic routes will present would-be passengers with another hurdle to negotiate, and will inevitably suppress numbers even more. Nevertheless, in the interest of public health, it could be the safest action to take at the present time.