After repeated pleas from airlines and international travel partners, the Biden administration finally lifted COVID testing requirements for entry into the United States. Is it right time to give summer travel a boost – or too little, too late?
Until an unnamed “senior administration official” announced its end, the COVID testing requirement for travelers planning to enter the United States had been in place since January 2021. test applied to both international travelers and Americans seeking to return to the United States. Vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers were required to test themselves.
Travelers had to take a COVID test (and obviously, a negative test) within 24 hours of the flight. Otherwise, they had to rebook, stay abroad until they tested negative, and hopefully fly later.
But said the mysterious senior administration official, according to The Hill, “the CDC has determined based on science and data that this requirement is no longer necessary at this time.”
Whether the testing requirement has limited the spread of COVID, which has infected 85 million Americans (including this writer) is debatable. What seems clear is that the uncertainty factor (can I really fly to the US on the date of my booking?) has kept millions of US and international travelers from flying.
As Ellen Bettridge, President and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, a provider of luxury river cruises in Europe, said: “Since the start of the pandemic, our US customers have said that the requirement for Back-to-school testing is the main thing preventing them from returning from trips abroad, and we are delighted that this barrier has been lifted.
The CDC website currently states “Before boarding a flight to the United States, you must present a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 1 day before travel. There is also an option for people who have documented their recovery from COVID-19 within the past 90 days. Children under 2 years old do not need to test.
The change would be effective from 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, June 12. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can reevaluate the decision in three months. When a U.S. federal judge struck down the CDC’s mask mandate for U.S. flyers, the Biden administration made noise to file a lawsuit to overturn the decision. To date, he has not.
Airline officials had long advocated ending pre-flight testing. Delta CEO Ed Bastian pointed out that many other countries do not require testing upon arrival.
So airlines and hospitality industries were understandably ecstatic when the testing requirement was lifted.
Airlines for America Business Group CEO and President Nick Calio said, “We look forward to welcoming the millions of travelers who are ready to come to the United States for vacation, business and reunion with loved ones.
“Today’s announcement is an important victory for hotels and the travel industry at large,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). He added, “AHLA has consistently called on the administration and Congress to lift this testing requirement, which was outdated and had a chilling effect on inbound international travel to the United States.”
Rogers warmly thanked a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including every senator from tourist hotspots in Nevada and Florida, for pushing for change. He noted, “Waiving the requirement will make travel easier, facilitate more international visitors and help hotels continue on the path to recovery, especially as we approach the peak travel season this summer.”
The question is whether the change comes in time to save the summer travel season. Journalists keep tossing around the concept of a “revenge trip,” picking up what we missed during the pandemic.
Domestic travel is almost back to where it was, although airlines are running out of pilots and hundreds of flights have been cut from the schedule. Meanwhile, thousands of cancellations and delays have made travel a pain. No wonder airline stocks took a hit.
International travel, a major contributor to airline revenue, is still under water. Airlines for America says international air travel to and from the United States in May remained 24% below 2019 levels.
And while Las Vegas is almost back to previous levels, international visits are still lagging behind. The same is true for hotel occupancy (84% in April 2022 compared to 91% in April 2019) and convention visitors (377,000 in April 2022 compared to 529,000 in April 2019).
With the cost of flights, fuel and hotel rooms skyrocketing due to inflation, can the travel industry still make a successful comeback this summer?
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises hopes to stimulate demand with a two-for-one sale. The travel provider is offering two guests for the price of one fare on 20 of its all-inclusive itineraries on European rivers as part of a Friends & Family 2022 sale. For example, the SS La Venezia crosses northern Italy, including the Venice Lagoon now only accessible by small boat, on the Venice & The Gems of Northern Italy.
Meanwhile, international airlines like LEVEL and French Bee are battling for US customers with low-cost flights to Barcelona and Paris.
Whatever happens to travel volume this summer, the end of pre-flight COVID testing can provide passengers with much more peace of mind.