Southwest Airlines urges Biden administration to not require COVID tests for domestic flights

Airlines may request passengers prove coronavirus status

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Another airline CEO has urged the federal government to not make coronavirus testing mandatory for domestic flights.

Southwest Airlines Co.’s Chairman and Chief Executive Gary C. Kelly sent a letter addressed to President Joe Biden on Tuesday to ask his administration to “refrain from imposing any federal mandate to require a pre-departure COVID-19 test for air travel within the United States.”

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The letter was sent in response to a statement made by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who recently said that there is an “active conversation” going on with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about potentially mandating coronavirus tests before domestic flights as a way to combat the pandemic.

However, Kelly’s reasoning for being against COVID-19 testing before domestic flights stems from the additional costs it would require to do so, which could adversely affect customers who do not have access to testing resources.

Gary Kelly, chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines Co., addressed a letter to President Joe Biden and his administration to lobby against coronavirus testing for domestic flights. (Kholood Eid/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

He also wrote the pre-flight testing for domestic travel would strain Southwest’s “limited national testing capacity” that “is already struggling to meet demand, especially for people of limited means or those in so-called ‘testing desserts.’”

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The CEO went on to note that outside of the money that would be needed to test all Americans before they board a flight, the mandate if passed could put “jobs at risk” and “lead to more interactions between Customers and Employees.”

Moreover, Kelly’s letter suggested that a mandate for COVID-19 tests before domestic flights might come a little too late in light of rising vaccination rates and new coronavirus cases trending downward. Data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard show positive cases have been on the decline since mid-January.

The CEO of Southwest Airlines has argued that mandatory COVID-19 tests for domestic flights could present additional challenges for the airline industry. (iStock)

A spokesperson from Southwest told Fox News that the CEO’s letter was also sent to senior officials at the Department of Transportation, Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Airline union executives signed the letter in support of Kelly’s stance, including the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the Transport Workers Union of America, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Southwest, like many other commercial airlines, has implemented health and safety measures that include enhanced cleaning procedures, HEPA filtration systems and mandatory face mask wear for staff and passengers along with social distancing.

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Most commercial airlines have implemented health and safety measures to protect staff and passengers from the novel coronavirus, which includes mandatory face mask wear. (iStock)

Before Kelly’s letter was sent out, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian expressed criticism against coronavirus testing for domestic flights in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday.

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“The level of travel that we are carrying domestically in the U.S. — not just Delta, but across the industry — would be substantially reduced from today’s already low levels if domestic testing was required,” he told the news outlet. “And we don’t have the facility or the technology or capabilities to be administering or monitoring domestic testing.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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