Airline CEOs, Travel Groups Urge White House to End COVID-19 Travel Restrictions

Miami airport

Miami airport

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Airlines and travel groups are asking the Biden administration to lift pandemic-era restrictions in the United States, as countries around the world are increasingly doing the same.

Industry trade group Airlines for America sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday asking the administration to lift the federal transportation mask mandate and ditch the pre-departure test requirement for international travelers.

“During the global health crisis, U.S. airlines have supported and cooperated with the federal government’s measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. We are encouraged by the current data and the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions from coast to coast, which indicate it is past time to eliminate COVID-era transportation policies,” the group wrote in its letter. “Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions… that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.”

The letter was signed by executives from Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, JetBlue, American Airlines, Southwest, Alaska Air Group, Hawaiian Airlines, and more.

The mask mandate has so far been extended until April 18. Additionally, all international travelers, including U.S. citizens, have been required to get tested within one day of flying to the country since December.

The mask mandate specifically has led to an increase in reports of unruly passengers to the point where the Transportation Security Administration has said it will rescind membership in its TSA PreCheck program from anyone who is fined by the Federal Aviation Administration for bad behavior.

Delta Air Lines’ CEO Ed Bastian, who signed onto the Airlines for America letter, noted each of Delta’s cabins feature hospital-grade HEPA filters and “regular cleaning” and said people can protect themselves with available N95 and KN95 masks as well as vaccinations.

“Considering the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, the federal mask mandate and pre-departure testing no longer fits with the current environment,” Bastian said in a statement. “We appreciate the leadership of the federal government throughout the pandemic. Current data and science show it’s time to move from mandates to guidance and personal health choices.”

Similarly, the U.S. Travel Association has also called on the White House to drop these protocols, saying in a statement the “public health benefits of these policies have now greatly diminished” and the “economic consequences continue to grow.”

The calls come as several countries — like Canada, the Netherlands, and Thailand — have dropped pre-arrival testing, while others — like Aruba, Ireland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom — have eliminated pandemic-era travel restrictions altogether.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she’s not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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