EDITORIAL: Stop Pre-Flight COVID Testing. Now

Credit: Mufid Majnun/Unsplash

In much of the world, certainly in Europe and North America, life is looking pretty normal. 

Live concerts and sports events are back and selling out; restaurants and bars are full; and airports and planes are packed.

This is as it should be. Human beings naturally connect in person and they typically cannot thrive in extended lockdown situations. That’s why, in almost all societies, prison sentences are the go-to punishment for those who commit crimes.

It’s now time to normalize commercial air travel and lift all border restrictions, including and most importantly, requirements for
COVID testing.

While the US is not alone in holding on to its testing mandate for incoming passengers, its continuing rule is the most absurd. Within the world’s largest domestic market, people can fly from Florida to Hawaii or Alaska and anywhere between without a mask or proof of test or vaccination. They can even do so to and from Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory in the Caribbean.

But anyone flying into the US from a foreign country, including fully vaccinated Americans, must get a test the day before they fly. That makes no sense. 

The risk of contracting COVID while on a plane is extremely low—scientifically demonstrable—and is the same minimum risk whether you fly from Miami to Seattle or from London to New York.

As Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said in a speech in Washington DC in May, in terms of virus transmission, the two safest places you can be are in a surgical theater or on a plane.

Testing is neither cheap nor easy. It adds hassle and uncertainty to people’s travel plans, be it for vacation or business.

There is also the question as to why the Biden administration has not lifted the air travel testing rules. It appears that in some corners of government, this is a reaction to a Florida judge’s ruling—in response to a lawsuit challenging the mask mandate—that unceremoniously and swiftly lifted the mask rule.

If that is the case, then the US government is playing politics, not following the data and science. At the very least, it’s a double standard—and a highly dubious one—to have one testing rule for people flying across America and another for those flying into America.

Remove testing rules for flying. Remove them now. And let people get back to what they clearly are so ready for: a normal flight to wherever they want to go.

Karen Walker

Karen Walker is Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief and Aviation Week Network Group Air Transport Editor-in-Chief. She joined ATW in 2011 and oversees the editorial content and direction of ATW, Routes and Aviation Week Group air transport content.


Well written, but I believe you are missing the point:

The need for Covid testing has nothing to do with disease prevention and everything to do with fear and control. This is why you never see Biden unmasked. The irony of course is that this Administration is maintaining the need for testing from abroad, but appealing a judgement blocking the removal of Title 42 at the southern border for incoming people whose name, history and health status we usually do not even know.

The Test mandate will probably last until the Mid-Terms, especially since more alarms and crisis (Monkey Pox and new Covid variants) are being concocted ahead of November 2022.
Ms. Walker, I hope you will not get Covid 19.
Yes, we all would like to get rid of all the necessary measures we have to take to avoid to get Covid 19. At the same time the Airline Industry need to recover from 2 years of huge financial losses, subsidies, the least you need is to have someone, on some airline to get covid which definitely would get the attention of the media.
We need to be reasonable and patient.
I am disappointed to see such an Editorial from this leading magazine.
“It appears…that this is a reaction to a Florida judge’s ruling”. It appears? How, exactly? “Some corners of government”. Really? Which ones? This drivel is what you get when actual reporting goes out the window.
thank you for your courageous stand on this volatile topic loaded with non-belief in science and toxic opinion. I agree with your assessment and rationale both in the travel and CDC world. The high degree of the vaccinated population has reduced the mortality/fatality rates significantly. A vaccinated Karen is likely to cruise through an infection with some discomfort like everyone I know did, including myself. You’re also right re the politics of the Florida judgment. Im traveling internationally next week and dread the knowns and potential pop-ups by the never-ending regulators.