Was America’s COVID Testing Requirement Really That Much of a Deterrent to Travel?

United Airlines has reported a jump in global travel searches after the testing requirement was done away with earlier this week

Airplane in the sky
Marta Weronika

Was the COVID-19 testing requirement here in the U.S. really deterring people from traveling abroad? The short answer is…yes, apparently so, as evidenced by the surge in international travel searches over the course of the past 72 hours.

According to a new report from Reuters, United Airlines — which accounts for the bulk of international traffic among major U.S. carriers — said it has seen more than 2.4 million searches for international travel in the last three days, up 7% from the week prior. Further, roughly 1.5 million of those searched were for travel from the U.S. to international destinations like Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean.

It solidifies the notion that the testing requirement has somehow hindered the recovery of the travel industry, which airline executives and other industry officials have been pedaling for months. In fact, back in March, the CEOs of 10 airlines and cargo carriers — Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air Worldwide, Delta Air Lines, FedEx Express, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and UPS Airlines — signed a letter to the President urging him to scrap the testing requirement.

“Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions — including the international pre-departure testing requirement and the federal mask mandate — that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment,” the letter read. As recently as last week, American Airlines chief executive Robert Isom called the requirement “nonsensical,” adding that it was “depressing” leisure and business travel.

Just days later, the Biden administration announced that a negative test would no longer be required to enter the country, with the CDC declaring tests no longer necessary, resulting in the aforementioned uptick in international travel searches and simultaneously confirming Isom’s suspicions.

That said, we still can’t help but wonder: were that many people seriously deterred by the testing requirement? Because the reality is that it was effective in weeding out positive cases, which tells us that there is an overwhelming number of people who are more afraid of getting stuck abroad than getting on a plane and infecting other people, or of having COVID at all.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that we know the testing requirement for travel probably wasn’t the most sustainable model in the long term, and we’re all for the recovery of travel and tourism. But the fact that so many people have been waiting for the requirement to go away to book an international trip feels oddly sinister. After all, the uptick in searches isn’t coming out of an abundance caution.


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