Buttigieg Says COVID-19 Testing Requirement for Domestic Air Travel Is Being Considered

February 10, 2021 Updated: February 10, 2021

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has suggested the federal government may require proof of a negative COVID-19 test result in order to board domestic passenger jets.

Buttigieg told “Axios on HBO” in an interview aired Feb. 7 that there’s currently “an active conversation” with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on whether to implement the requirement.

“What I can tell you is it’s going to be guided by data, by science, by medicine, and by the input of the people who are actually going to have to carry this out,” Buttigieg said. “But here’s the thing: The safer we can make air travel in terms of perception as well as reality, the more people are going to be ready to get back in the air.”

Pressed Feb. 8 in a CNN interview as to how likely the move would be, Buttigieg said that “the CDC is looking at all its options.”

“What we know is that it’s the appropriate measure for international travel, people traveling into the U.S. given some of those considerations. You know I’d say the domestic picture is very different, but you know the CDC is always evaluating what can best be done to keep Americans safe.”

The issue came to the fore when a senior CDC official said on Jan. 26 that the agency was considering a COVID-19 testing requirement for domestic flights.

“We are actively looking at it,” Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said on a call with reporters, USA TODAY reported.

So far, the CDC has only required that all air passengers arriving to the United States from a foreign country get tested for COVID-19 no more than three days before their flight departs and provide proof before boarding.

Talk of imposing a negative test requirement for domestic travel drew criticism from two senior Boeing executives, who warned the White House that the move could pose significant economic harm.

“Imposing such a burden on the already financially beleaguered airline industry has the potential for severe unintended consequences that will ripple across the entire economy,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Stan Deal and Chief Aerospace Safety Officer Mike Delaney wrote in a letter, as reported by Reuters.

Boeing and the White House declined to comment on the letter, Reuters stated.

On Jan. 29, the CDC issued a rule that requires travelers on airplanes and public transportation such as buses and subways to wear face masks (pdf).

The rule “will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic,” said Cetron, who signed the order.

The order, which extends to waiting areas such as airports, train platforms, and subway stations, makes refusal to wear a mask a violation of federal law, enforced by the Transportation Security Administration and other federal, state, and local authorities.

At the same time, the CDC recommends that people avoid travel entirely during the pandemic.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @OZImekTOM