United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this week that COVID-19 testing is essential to restore international travel. While that may be United’s position, many countries seem to be taking a different approach.
United Airlines CEO: “Testing Is Essential In Safely Restoring Global Travel”
On Tuesday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing entitled “COVID-19’s Effects on U.S. Aviation and the Flight Path to Recovery.” While several industry leaders testified before Congress, United CEO Scott Kirby sent a letter outlining United’s pandemic response.
The letter was extensive and primarily recounted the measures United has taken like its CleanPlus initiative, waiving change fees, and vaccine delivery. Kirby also thanked members of the committee for its extension of CARES Act funding.
But what caught my attention was Kirby’s emphasis on testing.
“We believe accurate and reliable testing is essential in safely restoring global travel and promoting our recovery. We believe pre-departure testing is an important tool that can open access to global markets in lieu of existing quarantines and travel restrictions.
That is why United is leading numerous pilot programs and investing in testing and digital data health management solutions. United launched the world’s first free transatlantic COVID-19 testing pilot for customers; was the first U.S. airline to launch a COVID-19 testing program for customers traveling on United from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii; and introduced customer COVID-19 testing from Houston to Latin American and Caribbean destinations.”
While United Airlines joined others in condemning testing requirements for domestic travel, it has settled on a position that testing should re-open borders.
How Will Countries Respond?
Despite President Joe Biden’s promise that all Americans would be offered a vaccination by May, the focus on testing instead of vaccine suggests a hope…and I’d call it nothing less than a hope…that testing alone can re-open borders.
While we already see some countries open with proof of a negative COVID-19 test, proof of vaccination plus testing will likely be the new norm; and the vaccination is still so young that we do not know how long its protection lasts.
United is hardly unreasonable to push testing as a means to open borders, but I don’t see it as an alternative to closed borders or even quarantines in the near future.
Kirby believes testing is key to re-opening borders. As much as I wish that were to be the case, the imperfect testing technology and reliance upon a layered approach likely renders this idea a pipe dream.