Now that the U.S. has made it through its latest surge of COVID-19 cases, travel groups are renewing calls for the White House to ease the country’s remaining travel restrictions.
A Tuesday letter from the U.S. Travel Association urges incoming White House COVID response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha to “quickly focus” on replacing COVID-related travel measures with endemic-focused policies. This includes repealing the federal mask mandate by April 18, removing the pre-departure testing requirement for inbound vaccinated international travelers and ending international COVID travel advisories.
Airlines for America, the lobbying group for the U.S. airline industry, sent a similar letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
“Much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context,” Airlines for America's letter reads.
This isn't the first time the groups have asked White House officials to ease travel restrictions.
A Feb. 2 letter to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients signed by both Airlines for America and the U.S. Travel Association asked for an end to the pre-departure testing requirement for vaccinated passengers flying to the United States. Another February letter to Zients from the two groups asked the Biden administration to lift travel requirements.
Travel groups: Ease testing requirement for international flights
The letters point to a downfall in COVID-related hospitalizations, infections and deaths; increased vaccination and immunity rates; and new therapeutics as signs that "now is the time" to ease restrictions.
The U.S. Travel Association argues that lifting travel restrictions could boost business travel and international travel's recovery. Business travel spending in 2021 was 56% below 2019 levels, while international travel spending was down 78%, according to the organization.
The letter, signed by U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow, asks Jha to remove the pre-departure testing requirement “immediately” upon stepping into his role next month.
The United States has required a negative coronavirus test among all inbound international travelers ages 2 and older since January 2021. A number of other countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada, have already dropped this requirement.
The Airlines for America letter also calls for Biden to end the testing requirement, saying it has “outlived its utility and stymies the return of international travel.”
“The U.S. inconsistency with these practices creates a competitive disadvantage for U.S. travel and tourism by placing an additional cost and burden on travel to the U.S.,” the letter reads.
Airlines for America's letter was signed by executives from 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.
Airline CEOs: Federal mask mandate 'makes no sense'
Both letters also ask for an end to the federal mask mandate for public transportation, which was extended through April 18. The mandate was first announced in January 2021 and requires travelers to mask up on airplanes, trains, buses and in airports and train stations.
“It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do,” Airlines for America’s letter reads.
The U.S. Travel Association adds that travel measures can be reinstated “at any time” if new variants emerge.
“However, we believe it is time for the administration to lead the country toward a new normal for travel and on a faster road to a full economic recovery," Dow said.
Copyright 2022 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, LLC. All rights reserved. From https://www.usatoday.com. By Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY.