At a time when highly-transmissible Covid variants are spreading even among the vaccinated and boosted, would you feel better about returning to the U.S. from overseas knowing that everyone aboard the aircraft had tested negative the day before, or having no idea who might or might not be infected with Covid?
If airlines get their way, the U.S. could soon drop its requirement that all airline passengers — vaccinated or unvaccinated — produce a pre-departure negative antigen (rapid) Covid test the day before returning from an international destination.
The U.S. Travel Association and Airlines for America, trade groups that represent the travel industry and U.S. airlines, are pressing the Biden Administration to end the protection, arguing that the “travel industry remains disproportionately harmed” by the requirement. Lifting the protective measure would “lead to more foreigners visiting the U.S.,” they argue, and besides, as one spokesman reasoned, Covid “is here already.”
None of these arguments address the health and safety of passengers — the ones buying over-priced tickets, spending extra hours arriving early at airports due to “staffing” shortages — or even the costs involved in flight crews calling in sick after being exposed to untested passengers.
Granted antigen tests are not fool-proof. It’s possible to test negative on a rapid test, and then test positive a few days later. But what a negative result does show in most cases is that you aren’t yet immediately contagious, and therefore not endangering fellow passengers sitting near you in an enclosed space for long periods of time.
As far as putting U.S. tourism at a disadvantage compared to other countries that have lifted their testing requirements, I’d say gun violence and mass shootings at schools, grocery stores and hospitals will have more to do with whether or not foreigners decide to travel to the U.S.
Much is made about the “inconvenience” and expense of testing. So just how difficult is it to get a test while traveling? You can do it at most airports right before your flight if you want, or to be safe, make an appointment at a local pharmacy in town the day before. That’s what my husband and I did on a recent trip to Italy. The whole process took about 15 minutes, and cost around $20. We waited outside on the sidewalk until the pharmacist declared us “negativo,” and handed us our paperwork in English and Italian. He also sent the results in an e-mail so we could download them into our Air France “Ready to Fly” App, and get our boarding passes on our phones instead of having to check in at a crowded airport desk.
It’s true that if you test positive, you won’t be able to fly until you test negative. Another possibility is to wait five days and get a doctor to sign off that you’re no longer contagious. In any case, it means having a back-up plan — a hotel room in which to isolate and an airline ticket that allows changes.
It’s the price we should all continue to pay for the privilege of traveling during a pandemic which is not yet over. Without the requirement, people would no doubt get on planes with symptoms, telling themselves that it’s just a cold or allergies.
Instead of making up excuses to sell more tickets by eliminating testing, airlines should be lobbying to keep the requirements in place to protect their passengers and flight crews. They should also be doing more to encourage everyone to wear masks, per CDC recommendations, instead of celebrating the lifting of mandatory masking.
They could start by asking flight attendants to model Covid-safe travel by following CDC recommendations that “everyone properly wear a well-fitting mask over the nose and mouth in indoor areas of public transportation such as airplanes, trains, etc,. and transportation hubs such as airports, stations.”
No flight attendants wore masks on a recent Delta flight between Seattle and Cincinnati. “It’s nice to see your smiles again,” said a sign posted near the gate announcing that masks were now optional. I’d much preferred a sign that said “Masks are no longer mandatory. But for your protection and the protection of fellow passengers and flight crews, please consider wearing a mask while not drinking or eating.”