Airline group to Biden: COVID-19 travel restrictions ‘no longer make sense’

Airlines for America, which represents major North American airlines, is calling on the Joe...
Airlines for America, which represents major North American airlines, is calling on the Joe Biden Administration to end federal COVID-19 travel requirements for air passengers.(Storyblocks)
Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 10:20 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 24, 2022 at 12:31 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WCSC) - A lobbying group representing major North American airlines wants the Biden Administration to end a federal mask mandate and a requirement that international travelers be tested before boarding a flight.

In a letter to President Joe Biden, Airlines for America’s President and CEO, Nicholas Calio, said Wednesday it is time to “sunset federal transportation travel restrictions.”

The letter was co-signed by leaders of Alaska Air Group, American Airlines, Atlas Air Worldwide, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines Holdings and UPS Airlines.

The letter began by stating the organization appreciates Biden’s “leadership throughout the COVID-19 crisis and now as the country recovers from the impacts of the pandemic.” It goes on to state how the industry itself leaned to science in dealing with the pandemic.

“At the outset, we voluntarily implemented policies and procedures -- mandating face coverings; requiring passenger health acknowledgments and contact tracing information; and enhancing cleaning protocols – to form a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk and prioritize the wellbeing of passengers and employees,” the letter states.

It also states the group supported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as it made some of the policies federal mandates and imposed additional measures like “predeparture testing and vaccination requirements for international travelers.”

But, Calio wrote, “much has changed” since those measures were imposed and “they no longer make sense in the current public health context.” He cites the “persistent and steady decline of hospitalization and death rates” as “the most compelling indicators that our country is well protected against severe disease from COVID-19.”

“Given that we have entered a different phase of dealing with this virus, we strongly support your view that ‘COVID-19 need no longer control our lives,’” Calio wrote. “Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.”

He said the predeparture testing requirement “outlived its utility and stymies the return of international travel.”

He also wrote that science “clearly supports lifting the mask mandate,” pointing to “recently-released CDC framework indicating that 99 percent of the U.S. population no longer [needs] to wear masks indoors.”

“It is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and predeparture testing requirements has fallen on our employees for two years now. This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers. This, in turn, takes a toll on their own well-being,” he wrote. “The high level of immunity in the U.S., availability of high-quality masks for those who wish to use them, hospital-grade cabin air, widespread vaccine availability and newly available therapeutics provide a strong foundation for the Administration to lift the mask mandate and predeparture testing requirements. We urge you to do so now.”

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