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Currently, any travelers entering the U.S. from abroad must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country.
And now, the Biden administration is considering the possibility of extending this rule to domestic travel, as well.Many major groups in the travel industry are opposed to requiring domestic air travelers to provide a negative COVID-19 test. Last Friday, American Society of Travel Advisors, the U.S. Travel Association, American Hotel and Lodging Association, Global Business Travel Association and numerous airline groups — including Airlines for America — signed a joint letter to the new administration’s COVID-19 Recovery Team Coordinator expressing their concerns.
On a Jan. 27 call with the media, Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy for U.S. Travel Association, echoed much of the content of the letter when she called the idea “extremely problematic and difficult to enforce.”
“High cost and low availability would make it quite unworkable,” she said, pointing to the fact that the availability of COVID-19 tests varies by state. Barnes also said that the plan would “disproportionately affect lower-income communities” because tests would become less available and more expensive if people had to procure one for travel.
The letter cites research that found that a testing requirement for domestic air travel would require a 42% increase in daily testing capacity nationwide.
“There is no question that a mandate of this magnitude would syphon public health resources away from more vulnerable populations such as nursing homes, medical facilities and schools,” the coalition of 22 travel groups wrote.
There is no question that a mandate of this magnitude would syphon public health resources away from more vulnerable populations such as nursing homes, medical facilities and schools.
In her call, Barnes said that although U.S. Travel supports the testing requirement for those entering the U.S., “air travel is safer than going to a grocery store” (a refrain recently repeated by Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines), especially when coupled with a layered approach that includes wearing masks, washing hands, staying home when sick and social distancing.
“[Domestic testing requirements] would hamper the mobility of the country and put a huge further debt into the national economy,” she said.
In the letter, the travel industry coalition points out the downsides of targeting the aviation industry, which has taken great measures to make airports and flights safe.
“Singling out air travel would not effectively capture movement from state to state since travelers are likely to simply drive, take a bus or a train, all conveyances which do not have the measures in place that make air travel uniquely safe,” the coalition wrote.
Travel Advisors RespondTravel advisor Valerie Edman of Go Experience Travel largely agrees with complaints that requiring domestic tests would “likely further reduce the number of people willing to travel by air.”
Edman, who specializes in family travel, also sees how testing could pose unique challenges to family groups in particular.
“The added expense, the hassle of testing — for little ones, especially — and the logistics of what to do should one family member test positive further complicates travel,” she said. “Family travel is complex as is, and adding steps will discourage families from traveling.”
Other advisors see domestic testing as a necessary step in controlling the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. — what they see as the real deterrent to travel demand.
RELATED: Need to Know Research: Travel Advisors Support Strict COVID-19 Testing Requirements
Travel advisor Lauren Liebert of All About That Travel views domestic tests as a solution that can produce a sustainable outcome and one that avoids a worse COVID-19 outbreak with further cancellations and re-bookings.
"Travel advisors are suffering and working in the negative,” she said. “If we took this strong stance [to test domestically], we could knock out the spread.”
While it’s not the only measure — as masks, social distancing and vaccinations are all important — [testing is] a way to combat it. We’re at the point where we need safer travel measures nationwide and consistent messaging around it.
Rebecca Lee Robinson, a travel advisor for Uniglobe Travel Center, agrees that testing will help contain the pandemic, pointing out that even if planes are safe, the virus can spread before or after flights when travelers are out and about — particularly if they are visiting family.
“While it’s not the only measure — as masks, social distancing and vaccinations are all important — [testing is] a way to combat it,” she said. “We’re at the point where we need safer travel measures nationwide and consistent messaging around it.”
And although U.S. Travel’s Barnes says it will be “unworkable” to require that all domestic travelers have access to tests, Robinson believes that this issue can, and should be, improved.
"I understand that not everyone can easily access testing, but if we can increase rapid test availability, then it’s not really a major inconvenience,” Robinson said. “For my clients who have needed a test to travel, they have all been OK with getting it done. It hasn’t been a deterrent, and I think it helps them feel better about traveling.”
Liebert of All About That Travel points out that domestic testing has been required for months — if clients are going to Hawaii.
“My clients were motivated to go on vacation and were willing to get tested,” she said. “Those who aren’t simply are not traveling at this time.”