Days after the Biden Administration eliminated its COVID-19 international testing requirement, United Airlines reported a surge in interest for international travel.
United Airlines Reports Surge In International Travel Searches After Elimination Of COVID-19 Testing Requirement
For 17 months, a negative COVID-19 test was required for travelers stepping onboard an inbound international flight to the United States. For months, airlines have lobbied the Biden Administration to drop the testing requirement, with American Airlines CEO Robert Isom going so far as to call it “nonsensical” in a recent interview. Effective June 12, 2022, the testing requirement was lifted.
Already, the lifting of the mandatory testing requirement appears to be working. United Airlines, which offers more international traffic than any U.S. carrier in terms of available seat miles, has reported a surge in interest in international travel. That includes the following statistics in the 72 hours since the testing announcement:
- 2.4 million searches for international travel, a 7% increase from the week prior
- 1.5 million of those were for travel from the U.S. to international destinations – an increase of 7.6%
- 900,000 were for travel from international destinations to the U.S. – up 6.9%
- The majority of searches by U.S. travelers were for near-term travel this summer to destinations in Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean
It’s safe to say that pre-flight COVID-19 did act as a travel deterrent. But why? Was it really so hard to find a testing center or just too expensive?
Critics have charged that people were more afraid of getting stuck overseas than getting on a plane and potentially infecting other people, or of having COVID-19 at all. I would frame that charge differently.
Travelers were right to question the whole shady enterprise of pre-flight testing, which often presented dodgy test centers with questionable tests at inflated prices (like that time in Germany I was swabbed for just a few seconds less than a centimeter into my nose and received a negative test eight minutes later). The stress of finding a testing center and hoping test results would be dispatched in time did act as a justifiable deterrent to travel, since few want to be stuck overseas.
And frankly with airplane filtration systems offering among the safest indoor environments, it never made logical sense why testing was required on flights but not in other venues and spaces which represented a far more elevated risk.
The “something is better than nothing” approach rang hollow to those who had to scramble for a test before every flight from the USA that U.S. officials simply asked airlines to quickly glance out. It became a redundant exercise especially as all known variants were already present and saturated in the USA.
United Airlines has reported a surge in searches for international travel in the 72 hours after the U.S. dropped COVID-19 pre-flight testing requirements. With the summer travel season now upon us, expect flights that are even more crowded as a result of this U.S. policy change.