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Airlines push back on mandatory COVID-19 testing for flights

Airlines push back on mandatory COVID-19 testing for flights
© Greg Nash

Airline CEOs have started to push back on discussions within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on implementing mandatory COVID-19 testing on flights within the U.S.

USA Today first reported that airline officials, when asked about the CDC proposal in a conference call on fourth quarter earnings Thursday, said it was not clear when or if the requirement would come, but added that it would be a logistical challenge for airlines. 

"It would have us testing Americans on airplanes that we all know are safe to be on," American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said during the call, according to ABC News

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Parker added that the testing requirement had “been floated to us,” as a possibility, but that airline executives “haven’t heard anything directly from regulators or others about that possibility.''

"We certainly want to make sure it is something that wouldn't restrict demand," Parker added. "No one has talked to us officially about doing that — and if they do we will do our best to make sure we stress how safe it is to fly."

According to USA Today, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said he thinks mandatory testing "would be a mistake," due to both testing access and the costs associated with administering the tests.

"I just think it’s wholly impractical,'' Kelly added.

JetBlue Airways President Joanna Geraghty reportedly said that the company does not support mandatory testing on domestic flights, pointing out that testing is relatively limited and results could take days.

"When you start thinking about a framework that's already overburdened and you add domestic travel into that, this puts a ton of pressure on an already fragile system,” Geraghty said Thursday, according to USA Today. 

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Despite the pushback on testing for domestic flights, the airline executives on Thursday voiced support for President Biden’s executive order last week mandating that travelers seeking to enter the U.S. from another country must “produce proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test,” taken no more than three days prior to their flight or show proof of recovery from the virus within the past three months.

Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said in a call with reporters Wednesday that the CDC was now “actively looking at” requiring testing for domestic flights. 

This comes as airlines have been hit particularly hard amid the pandemic, with travel restrictions and lockdown orders limiting air travel. American Airlines on Thursday reported a net loss of $8.9 billion for 2020.