While Canada dropped its pre-departure testing requirement for fully vaccinated international travellers in April, the policy remains active in the United States – and U.S. airlines, facing consumer hesitancy, have had enough.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday (June 3), American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said the Biden administration’s pre-arrival testing rules were “nonsensical” and were “depressing” leisure and business travel.
“We’re really frustrated and this is something that is damaging not only U.S. travel but it just doesn’t make sense,” Isom told media, as reported by Reuters.
The executive noted the inconsistent nature of the rule, highlighting how pre-arrival COVID-19 testing isn’t enforced at the Canada-U.S. land border, sharing an example of how the Boston Red Sox, in April, flew to Toronto to play the Blue Jays but rode a bus home to avoid testing.
Isom met with officials in Washington last week to discuss the issue and said that 75 per cent of countries American Airlines serves do not have testing requirements.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently requires travellers to test negative within one day before flights to the United States. (Both antigen and PCR tests are accepted).
Last week, Delta Air Lines executive Ed Bastian told Reuters that dropping the COVID-19 testing requirement will boost people’s willingness to travel.
“We know it will help induce and incent travellers to go abroad, bring more commerce in, more business in so hopefully they will get it done soon,” Bastian said.
Echoing similar conversations that took place in Canada when the Canadian government required a COVID-19 test for entry, U.S. airlines say Americans are hesitate to travel abroad over a concern that they will test positive for COVID-19 in destination and be stranded.
International U.S. air travel remains down about 14 per cent from pre-pandemic levels, reports say.
Canadians flying international would also appreciate the White House dropping its pre-entry test rule – connecting flights in the U.S, regardless of one’s final destination, require a pre-arrival COVID test also.
Last week, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration was “constantly evaluating our policy…And any decision on pre-departure testing requirement would be made by our health and medical experts.”
A "chilling effect"
That same week, Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. carriers, and the U.S. Travel Association, argued that the testing rule does not match the current threat from COVID-19.
"Quite frankly, the only impact the pre-departure testing requirement is having is a chilling effect on an already fragile economy here in the U.S.," Airlines for America chief Nick Calio said in a statement.
Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association added that while restrictions on many other U.S.-based businesses have been lifted, "the travel industry remains disproportionately harmed by this requirement."
"Other countries with whom we directly compete for global travellers have removed their pre-departure testing requirements and reopened their tourism economies, putting the U.S. at a serious competitive disadvantage for export dollars," Dow said in a statement.