Travel industry cheers CDC’s removal of testing requirement
Airlines and travel groups cheered the Biden administration’s decision to lift its COVID-19 testing requirement for air travelers entering the U.S., a long-sought victory for the industry.
The Biden administration on Friday announced that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will no longer require U.S.-bound travelers to show a negative COVID-19 test as of Sunday. The CDC said that the requirement is no longer necessary at this time thanks to the widespread availability of vaccines and treatments.
The decision follows a lobbying blitz by travel and tourism interests, which have pressed the White House for months to lift the requirement through a series of meetings, letters and opinion pieces. They argued that the rule was hurting demand for travel and noted that other countries, such as the United Kingdom and France, had already dropped similar restrictions.
“Lifting this policy will help encourage and restore air travel to the United States, benefiting communities across the country that rely heavily on travel and tourism to support their local economies,” Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, a trade group that represents the top U.S. carriers, said in a statement.
“We are eager to welcome the millions of travelers who are ready to come to the U.S. for vacation, business and reunions with loved ones.”
The travel industry pitched the Biden administration on the potential economic growth of dropping the testing requirement. The U.S. Travel Association released an analysis this month finding that making the change could increase travel spending in the U.S. by 12 percent, bringing in an additional $9 billion.
Industry groups said that some travelers wouldn’t visit the U.S. if they have to take a COVID-19 test prior to departure.
In a separate U.S. Travel survey of vaccinated international travelers conducted by Morning Consult, 54 percent said that the prospect of having to cancel their trip due to the requirement would have a “big impact” on their decision to visit the U.S.
“U.S. Travel and our partners advocated tirelessly for months to ensure this requirement would be lifted, pointing to the monumental scientific advancements that have made it possible for us to reach this point,” Roger Dow, the group’s president, said in a statement.
Some segments of the travel industry are still reeling from the pandemic’s chilling effect on travel. While airlines are gearing up for huge demand for domestic travel this summer, international air travel is still 24 percent below pre-pandemic levels, according to Airlines for America.
Airlines, travel agencies and hotels said this week that the testing requirement was causing travelers to avoid the U.S., or in some cases fly to Canada or Mexico and enter the country by car.
“We’re grateful to President Biden and to everyone who advocated for this important step forward for the travel and tourism industry’s continued recovery,” American Airlines said in a statement. “With the widespread availability of effective treatment options and vaccines, we believe this is the right time for this decision.”
Industry groups courted members of Congress and prominent state and local officials to help lobby the Biden administration. On Tuesday, a group of 38 mayors, including New York City’s Eric Adams (D) and Miami’s Francis Suarez (R), wrote a letter to the White House, calling the testing rule “neither wise nor effective.”
“This requirement makes little sense considering that nearly all other sectors of the U.S. economy are operating without a testing requirement,” they wrote.
The mayors’ statement echoes industry talking points that airplanes are just as safe, if not safer, than restaurants, trains and other public settings that don’t require COVID-19 testing. Lobbying groups have also cited public health experts’ testimony that foreign travelers are not the cause of new variants.
The Biden administration said Friday that the CDC made its decision using “science and data” that showed the requirement was no longer needed. A Biden official added that the CDC will still recommend that travelers get tested before they fly.
“If there is a need to reinstate a pre-departure testing requirement — including due to a new, concerning variant — CDC will not hesitate to act,” a senior Biden administration official said, noting that the agency will reassess its decision in 90 days.
The Biden administration has slowly but surely eased pandemic travel rules, including reopening international travel in October of last year. In April, a federal judge struck down the federal mask mandate for air travel, another measure the travel industry pushed to end.
Restrictions are easing as both companies and policymakers increasingly depict the virus as something the nation will have to learn to live with, even as it continues to kill hundreds of Americans per day.
Following the mask ruling, Delta Air Lines initially said that COVID-19 had transitioned into an “ordinary seasonal virus.” But the carrier reworded its statement to say that medical advancements have transformed COVID-19 into a “more manageable respiratory virus” following backlash.
COVID-19 cases have fallen far below their peak in January, but omicron subvariants and summer travel are driving up case counts in the most in popular tourist destinations, such as Miami and Honolulu.