President Joe Biden’s latest measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 will increase the hassle factor of flights to the United States, even for American citizens returning from overseas.
From next week, travelers to the United States will be required to show evidence of a negative test for the virus within one day of boarding their flight. The previous period was three days.
In addition, Biden will extend the federal rule requiring passengers on planes, trains and buses to wear face masks until March 18. It was due to expire in mid-January.
These proposals came quickly, underscoring the urgency for the White House to act before winter, when the virus can more easily spread among people indoors, and since the discovery of a disturbing new variant of COVID. -19. The first U.S. case of the omicron variant was discovered in California and reported by the administration on Wednesday.
The administration’s actions come just days after the White House announced a travel ban to the United States for foreign nationals who visited South Africa or seven other African countries within the 14 days. previous ones. This travel ban does not apply to US citizens and permanent residents.
More revealing, perhaps, is what is not included in Biden’s announcement, including some proposals that were launched earlier this week like new quarantine rules for people arriving in the United States from from abroad, which travel industry officials said would have been very disruptive.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked why the administration didn’t go further and demand vaccinations or a negative test for passengers on domestic flights. She replied that “nothing is out of place. ”
“We base our decisions on the advice of medical and health experts, on what will be most effective and what we can implement,” Psaki said. “The President takes their advice and guidance very seriously, but I would say there is discussion of a range of options every day.”
Here is an overview of the new requirements and their likely impact.
TESTS BEFORE FLIGHTS TO US
The White House has said that early next week, the United States will begin requiring all inbound international travelers to be tested for COVID-19 within one day of their flight to the United States, regardless of whether their nationality or vaccination status. This will replace a similar three-day requirement in effect since early November, when the administration removed country-specific travel bans.
“This tighter testing schedule provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the omicron variant,” Biden said in a brief appearance to announce his latest measures against the virus.
Scott Keyes, founder of travel site Scott’s Cheap Flights, said the shorter time to get tested would weaken demand for international travel from both Americans going overseas and foreigners coming to the United States. by the White House, including allowing the use of rapid antigen tests instead of requiring more expensive PCR tests, and asking insurance companies to cover the costs.
The US Travel Association has said it hopes the one-day window is temporary “until more is known about the omicron variant.”
The Transportation Security Administration will extend the requirement to wear a mask on planes, trains, subways and other public transportation, including airports and bus stations, throughout the winter. The fines, which were doubled earlier this year, will remain in the $ 500 to $ 3,000 range.
The mask rule has become a flashpoint on flights, and some in the airline industry are anxious to see the warrant disappear. Airlines have reported more than 5,000 incidents of unruly passengers to federal authorities since the start of the year, with about three-quarters of the events involving passengers refusing to wear a mask.
WHAT IS NOT IN THE NEW RULES
Administration officials considered other requirements, including testing international travelers after arriving in the United States and requiring all travelers – even US citizens – to self-quarantine for several days even s ‘they are negative for COVID-19.
Kevin Mitchell, founder and chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, said the elements of Biden’s announcement aren’t big issues.
“One idea that was floated that maybe you should have quarantined – that would have been a problem,” Mitchell said. “It is a relief for the entire world of travel and tourism” that quarantines have not been ordered.
Shares of airlines, which have been volatile since the announcement of the omicron variant, rose 6% to 9% in trading on Thursday afternoon.
In the past week or so, online searches for international flights have fallen sharply while searches for domestic flights have remained fairly stable, according to figures from the travel agency and search engine Kayak.
“This tells me that people are wary, that they take a wait-and-see approach to international travel because they want to see what scientists conclude about this variant of omicron, but domestic travel has mostly failed. not been affected, ”Keyes said.
David Koenig can be contacted at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter