Delta Air Lines CEO Not Onboard With Domestic Testing Plan

Delta CEO Ed Bastian has refuted calls to mandate COVID-19 testing before taking a domestic flight in the United States. He calls the idea “horrible” and “terrible.” Ed Bastian says that it would hinder the recovery of the airline industry. More importantly, it would have few positive public health outcomes. Mr Bastian even suggests the proposal could do more harm than good.

Delta’s CEO has argued against a proposal to test domestic travelers for COVID-19. Photo: Vincenzo Pace / Simple Flying

Delta’s CEO comes out swinging

In an interview with CNN, Mr Bastian’s strongly-worded comments were a response to White House talks with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the proposal. The CDC recently ruled all inbound international travelers to the United States must produce evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result procured within three days of arrival.

“The CDC is looking at all its options,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said when asked about the proposal to link COVID-19 tests with domestic travel in the United States.

“There’s got to be common sense, medicine, science, driving this.”

But it’s a proposal Ed Bastian has little truck with. “I think it’d be a horrible idea,” he told CNN.

“I think it would be a logistical nightmare. It would set the transportation industry, not just the transportation and travel industry back, but the whole hospitality sector and hotels, it would set us back at least another year in the recovery.”

Delta CEO Ed Bastian. Photo: Delta Air Lines

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Testing domestic passengers would take resources away from those most in need

The Delta Air Lines boss says the airline industry is just starting to grow again in the United States. Carriers are now flying over one million passengers a day on average. Mr Bastian doesn’t want to put the brakes on that.

But he also points out that air travel is the safest way to travel, saying there were very few documented cases worldwide of people picking up COVID-19 from flying. Then there’s the matter of taking resources away from an already overstretched system.

“It would also take, probably, about 10% of the testing resources away from sick people. It’s hard to get tests. There are still delays.

“It will not keep domestic flying safe. If anything, it is going to keep people away from what they need to do … starting to get out, not just for essential travel, but people need to start reclaiming their lives. Taking testing resources away from those truly in need, I think it would be a terrible decision.”

Ed Bastian says testing domestic travelers would suck up around 10% of testing resources. Photo: Getty Images

A fine line for Ed Bastian to walk

Ed Bastian is walking a fine line between promoting good public health practices and rebooting his airline’s bottom line. Delta Air Lines posted a US$12.4 billion loss in the 12 months to December 31, 2020.

Among the big United States-based airlines, Delta is also the most bullish about the short to medium term. The airline hopes to squeeze out a profit this upcoming summer. But just days after White House plans to extend payroll support to September 30 leaked out, this latest proposal threatens to unravel Ed Bastian’s best-laid plans.

While newly installed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks about the need to defer to commonsense and science, the Delta Air Lines CEO does have science on his side. A widely cited report from the Harvard School of Public Health last year found flying as safe or substantially safer than other routine activities people undertake.

Assuming passengers practice social distancing, wear masks, and generally adhere to sensible health and hygiene practices, the report found doing so;

“Reduces the risk of COVID transmission onboard aircraft below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out.”

Those findings were seized upon by airlines last year, including Delta. The airline still promotes the report on its website. As Ed Bastian takes up his no domestic testing plan argument to the United States Government, its key points may get a fresh airing.

What do you think? Is testing for COVID-19 before taking a domestic flight within the United States a good idea? Post a comment and let us know.