The Biden administration will stop requiring air travelers to take Covid-19 tests in order to fly to the U.S. starting on Sunday, said federal officials, ending one of the last vestiges of travel restrictions employed during the pandemic to try to stem the spread of the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has determined that people flying to the U.S. from abroad no longer need to test negative a day before their departures, based on available science and data, ending a requirement that has been in place since last year.
The testing requirement is set to end on June 12 at 12:01 a.m.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has now shifted to a new phase,” the CDC said in a statement late Friday, announcing that it had rescinded its previous testing order. “As a result, this requirement which was needed at an earlier stage in the pandemic may be withdrawn.”
The agency will reassess the decision in 90 days and on a continuing basis after that, a senior administration official said. It might reinstate the testing requirement for international travelers to the U.S. as needed, such as if a more virulent Covid strain emerges, that official said. The agency will continue to recommend Covid testing before air travel and will work with the airlines on the transition.
Airlines had become increasingly frustrated by the testing requirement, which they have said has stymied demand along lucrative international routes, and they have been lobbying White House officials in recent weeks to end it. Travelers abroad have faced the prospect of getting stuck for days if they unexpectedly test positive, leaving many scrambling to cover expensive bills and to change flights at the last minute.
American Airlines Group Inc.
this month called the rule nonsensical, noting that negative tests aren’t required for travelers driving over land borders.
“This is something that is damaging not only U.S. travel, but it just doesn’t make sense,” he said at an industry event.
Airlines including American, as well as other travel and tourism officials, said Friday that they welcomed the announcement and believed it would help accelerate a recovery in international travel. “We are eager to see more of our customers return to international travel,” American said.
Shares of major airlines tumbled Friday along with the broader market, with shares of American,
Delta Air Lines Inc.
United Airlines Holdings Inc.
all sliding more than 3%.
Many of the measures put in place to restrict travel early in the pandemic have been lifted in recent months as federal officials have said more widely available treatments for Covid-19 and adoption of vaccines have rendered them less necessary. The U.S. last year reopened its borders to noncitizens from several countries, predominantly in Europe, who had been barred for more than 18 months. In April, the U.S. stopped requiring masks on public transportation, including flights, after a federal judge in Florida ruled that the mask mandate was unlawful.
The U.S. began requiring all international airline passengers to show proof of a negative test before boarding flights to the country in early 2021. The Biden administration tightened the testing requirement later in the year in an effort to combat the Omicron variant, requiring international travelers coming to the U.S. to test negative for Covid-19 within a day of departure.
Non-U.S. citizens will still have to show proof of vaccination to fly to the U.S., an administration official said.
“It’s well past time to drop the testing requirement to international travelers to the U.S.,” said Dr. Vin Gupta, health adviser to the Biden administration’s postelection transition team. “There was the assumption that international travelers were bringing in new variants. Now we know new variants are cropping up in the U.S.”
While domestic leisure travel has rebounded, demand on international routes, particularly among business travelers, has been slower to recover amid the restrictions. U.S.-international travel last month was 24% below 2019 levels, according to government data compiled by Airlines for America, a trade association.
“It’s a real impediment to travel,” United Airlines Chief Executive
told The Wall Street Journal last month.
Airlines and other travel companies have said they believe lifting the rule would result in millions of additional people flying to the U.S.
“Anyone who has not already made plans to travel abroad for the summer had better get going,” said
a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.
The change is also likely to boost demand among business travelers—another segment that has been more cautious about getting back on the road, Mr. Harteveldt said, resolving employers’ concerns about travelers getting stranded because of positive tests. That could help shore up travel demand this fall and winter, he said.
Signs are emerging that international demand is bouncing back already, despite the uncertainty created by testing requirements. Bookings for foreign travel from the U.S. are approaching prepandemic levels for many destinations, according to data from ForwardKeys.
Sheniece Ramsaroop, a 24-year-old digital marketing manager from New York who is scheduled to fly to Trinidad and Tobago on Monday to attend a family wedding, said Friday’s announcement eased one source of anxiety about the coming trip.
Finding testing sites there can be a time-consuming hassle, and an expensive one—the average cost of an antigen test in Trinidad and Tobago ranges from $75 to $100, while PCR tests can put out travelers as much as $250, according to the U.S. Embassy in the country.
“That would be a waste of a day,” Ms. Ramsaroop says. “I don’t want to go on vacation, and then my last day is spent scrambling to find a clinic that will give me a test.”
—Catherine Lucey, Jacob Passy and Betsy McKay contributed to this article.
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