Biden administration finally ends COVID-19 testing requirement to enter US

Biden administration finally ends COVID-19 testing requirement to enter US

Biden administration finally ends COVID-19 testing requirement to enter US

After repeated pleas from airlines and international travel partners, the Biden administration has finally lifted COVID testing requirements for entry into the United States. Is it just in time to give summer travel a chance – or too little, too late?

Until an unnamed “senior official” announced the end, the COVID testing requirement for travelers planning to enter the United States had been in effect since January 2021. The test requirement was for both international travelers and Americans wishing to return to the US. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers were required to test.

Travelers were required to take a COVID test (and test negative, of course) within 24 hours of flying. Otherwise they would have to rebook, stay abroad until they tested negative and hopefully fly later.

But according to The Hill, the mysterious senior government official said, “The CDC has determined based on the science and data that this requirement is no longer necessary at this point.”

Whether the testing requirement has limited the spread of COVID, which has infected 85 million Americans (including this writer), is up for debate. What seems obvious is that the uncertainty factor (can I really fly to the US on the date I booked?) kept millions of US and international travelers from flying.

As Ellen Bettridge, President & CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, a provider of luxury European river cruises, put it: “Since the start of the pandemic, our U.S. customers have indicated that the most important return test requirement is when they return from an international trip, 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 show a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 1 day before travel. There is also an option for people who have documented recovery from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, children under the age of 2 are not required to test.”

The change would take effect from Sunday, June 12 at 12:01 PM. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may re-evaluate the decision in three months. When a US federal judge rejected the CDC mask mandate for US flyers, the Biden administration made noises about an indictment to overturn the decision. To date it has not done so.

Airline officials have long argued for ending pre-flight testing. Delta CEO Ed Bastian points out that many other countries did not require testing upon arrival.

So both the airlines and the hotel industry were understandably ecstatic when the testing requirement was met.

Industry trade group Airlines for America CEO and President Nick Calio said, “We welcome the millions of travelers who are ready to come to the US for vacation, business and reunions with loved ones.”

“Today’s announcement is a major victory for hotels and the wider travel industry,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). He added: “AHLA has consistently called on the government and Congress to lift this testing requirement, which was outdated and had a chilling effect on inbound international travel to the US”

Rogers expressly thanked a bipartisan group of US senators, including every senator from the tourist meccas of Nevada and Florida, for pushing for the change. He noted, “Lifting the requirement will make travel easier, facilitate more international visitors and help hotels stay on track for recovery, especially as we approach peak season this summer.”

The question is whether the change will come in time to save the summer travel season. Journalists continue to use the concept of “revenge travel” to get back what we missed during the pandemic.

Domestic travel is almost back to where it was, though airlines are short of pilots and hundreds of flights have been cut from the schedule. Meanwhile, thousands of cancellations and delays have made travel painful. No wonder airline stocks have taken a beating.

International travel, which is a major contributor to airline revenue, is still under water. Airlines for America said in May that international air traffic to and from the US remained 24% below 2019 levels.

And while Las Vegas has nearly returned to its previous level, international attendance is still lagging. So are hotel occupancy (84% in April 2022 versus 91% in April 2019) and conference attendees (377,000 in April 2022, up from 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 summer comeback?

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises hopes to fuel demand with a two-for-one sale. The tour operator is offering two guests for the price of one fare on 20 of its all-inclusive itineraries on Europe’s rivers through a Friends & Family Sale in 2022. The SS La Venezia, for example, will cross northern Italy, including the Venetian Lagoon which is now only accessible by small ship, on the Venice & The Gems of Northern Italy.

Meanwhile, international airlines like LEVEL and French Bee are fighting for US customers with cheap flights to Barcelona and Paris.

Whatever happens to travel volume this summer, ending pre-flight COVID testing could provide passengers with much more peace of mind.