US considers Covid-19 testing requirement for domestic air travel

(CNN) — The Biden administration is considering a rule that would require negative Covid-19 test results for domestic air travel, according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“There’s an active conversation with the CDC right now,” Buttigieg told Axios. “What I can tell you is, it’s going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out.”

Buttigieg underlined that the “CDC is looking at all its options,” in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday.

“What we know is that it’s the appropriate measure for international travel, people traveling into the US given some of those considerations. You know I’d say the domestic picture is very different, but you know the CDC is always evaluating what can best be done to keep Americans safe,” Buttigieg said.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Monday that screening US travelers for Covid-19 could be helpful. But she did not expand upon whether there are plans to test domestic travelers.

“To the extent that we have available tests to be able to do testing, first and foremost, I would really encourage people to not travel,” Walensky said during a White House briefing. “But if we are traveling, this would be yet another mitigation measure to try and decrease the spread.”

When Buttigieg was asked if he supports the idea of requiring proof of a Covid-19 vaccination before air travel, he said that is up to the CDC.

“So, that’s not a step that has been taken, and again, CDC is really in the lead on deciding what the right measures will be.”

LAX airport

Will airports such as LAX in Los Angeles be handling domestic Covid-19 testing in the future? The Biden administration is considering it.

Getty Images/Siegfried Layda

Domestic vs. international testing

The discussion follows a CDC rule that went into effect at the end of January requiring negative Covid-19 tests for international travelers, US citizens and residents entering the United States.

The US Travel Association, a national nonprofit industry body, hailed that rule for inbound travelers as “key to reopening international travel.”

However, the group does not support a testing requirement for domestic air travelers.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian called mandatory testing for domestic travelers “a horrible idea,” citing few documented cases of Covid transmission aboard airliners and concerns that testing for air travelers would take testing resources away from areas of greater need.

“It will not keep domestic fliers safer,” Bastian told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “If anything, it’s going to keep people away from what they need to do in terms of starting to get back out for not just essential travel, but people need to start reclaiming their lives.”

He said it would be a “logistical nightmare” that would delay the recovery of the whole hospitality sector.

Other groups raise concerns

Industry body Airlines for America has also expressed concern about the possible testing requirement for domestic air travel.

In a recent letter to the White House, the organization highlighted the risk-based measures to stemming Covid-19 transmission that the industry has adopted and research showing that the risk of in-flight infection is low.

“Given the strong scientific evidence that the risk of Covid-19 transmission onboard an aircraft is very low, we believe that a testing requirement for domestic air travel is unwarranted,” the letter reads.

“Further, public health and economic data indicate that this policy would disproportionately prevent low-income travelers and rural Americans in small communities from travel.”

A4A also echoed the US Travel Association’s concern that such testing would divert resources away from more urgent public health priorities.

Airplane manufacturer Boeing is also opposed to mandating testing for domestic air travelers and said the federal government should pay for tests if the requirement is adopted.

“Imposing such a burden on the already financially beleaguered airline industry has the potential for severe unintended consequences that will ripple across the entire economy,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stanley Deal and Boeing Chief Aerospace Safety Officer Michael Delaney in a letter to the White House Covid-19 Recovery Team.

“If a testing mandate is prescribed by the Administration, funding should also be provided to comply.”

CNN’s Jacqueline Howard, Nick Neville, Andrea Diaz and Pete Muntean contributed to this report. Top photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images