Why Airlines Are Pushing For The US To Drop COVID Tests For Air Travel

According to European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), June, July, and August are the most popular months for Americans to travel to Europe. Over four million Americans traveled to Europe in June and July of 2019. However, the pandemic created immense challenges for air travel due to restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. One obstacle that remains in place is the U.S. requirement to show a negative COVID-19 within a day prior to boarding an airplane when coming from a foreign country.

This requirement has been in place for 16 months. U.S. airline executives claim that Americans are choosing not to travel abroad because of the fear of testing positive and getting stuck abroad until they can show a negative test — this can become an expensive ordeal. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said it is up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to lift the rules, which he expects it will do once it determines that lifting the rules will not impact the headway the country has already made in reducing the spread of the virus (via Reuters).

Are the COVID tests for air travel preventing the spread?

Most countries have lifted the pre-departure testing requirement, so why is the U.S. still standing firm? Is the pre-departure test requirement effective? According to Healthline, the CDC believes that pre-departure testing — combined with other safety measures, such as wearing face masks, social distancing, and proper air circulation on airplanes — helps reduce the risk of spreading the disease. COVID-19 tests for air travel cannot be 100% effective. However, Emily R. Smith, an assistant professor of global health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, told Healthline that data has shown that the coronavirus is transmissible on airplanes. After a positive test, self-isolation is the most effective way of preventing further spread.

However, people travel to the U.S. in other ways, such as via land or water. Despite needing to be fully vaccinated to enter the U.S., they do not need to take a pre-departure COVID test. Some people who have COVID symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive have used these modes of travel as a "backdoor" for entry since they do not require a test, per Healthline.

When the U.S. eventually drops the test requirement, health experts advise that people continue taking steps to reduce risks while traveling. This can be done by getting fully vaccinated, wearing a mask, and taking rapid test kits with you.