- Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, thinks passengers should also be subject to a vaccine mandate in order to fly.
- Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian called it a “logistical dilemma” trying to figure out who among the millions of passengers the airline carries every week has been vaccinated.
- “U.S. Travel has long maintained that there should be no mandatory vaccination requirement for domestic travel,” Tori Emerson Barnes, the U.S. Travel Association’s executive president said.
President Joe Biden recently announced sweeping federal vaccine mandates in a bid to get COVID-19 cases under control, a move that will likely require airline employees to be vaccinated or take weekly tests.
But what about airline passengers?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, thinks passengers should also be subject to a vaccine mandate in order to fly.
“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated,” Fauci said in a weekend interview with The Skimm.
Biden hasn’t publicly mentioned a vaccine mandate for flights but when asked about travel restrictions in a COVID-19 briefing Friday, Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response team coordinator, said nothing is off the table. He pointed to the government’s Thursday announcement that fines will be doubling for passengers refusing to follow the federal mask mandate on planes and other public transportation.
“Overall, I think we have a … very strong track record that shows we’re pulling available levers to acquire vaccinations and we’re not taking any measures off the table,” Zients said.
When asked about a possible vaccine mandate for domestic flights at a different briefing Friday, Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said: “We are always looking at more we can do to protect and save lives. Obviously, he made a significant and bold announcement yesterday, so I don’t have anything to preview – predict or preview for you, but we’ll continue to look for ways to save more lives.”
Would airlines go for a vaccine requirement for passengers?
The idea of vaccine mandates for flights would not be groundbreaking. Canada already requires air travelers to be vaccinated.
U.S. airlines have generally been against a vaccination requirement for domestic travel, and repeatedly note that it’s already a de facto requirement for a lot of international flights because of countries’ ever-changing entry requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with “CBS This Morning” in late August, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said he doesn’t see a vaccine requirement for U.S. flights happening.
Bastian called it a “logistical dilemma” trying to figure out who among the millions of passengers the airline carries every week has been vaccinated, not vaccinated or is exempt from vaccination rules.
“It would actually bottleneck the domestic travel system,” he said.
Similarly, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in an interview with The New York Times last month it would be “incredibly cumbersome” to check passenger vaccine status on flights within the United States.
“You can do this on international flights,” he said in a podcast interview with Kara Swisher. “There’s a lot of time between when the aircraft lands and when it takes off. We have to check passports and things as well. It wouldn’t be physically possible to do without enormous delays in the airline system.”
Airline executives sounded a similar refrain when the idea of mandatory COVID-19 testing for flights within the United States was raised by a top official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in late January. The idea was scratched a few weeks later after airlines pressed their case in a meeting at the White House.
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When asked to comment on Fauci’s support for a vaccine mandate for domestic flights, Airlines for America, the airline industry trade group, issued a statement Monday touting the airline industry’s safety protocols, from mandatory masks to cleaning. The group also noted that existing passenger vaccination rates provide another “layer of protection for the traveling public.”
But the group did not officially come out against vaccine mandates for domestic flights.
The U.S. Travel Association, which promotes travel to the United States, did.
“U.S. Travel has long maintained that there should be no mandatory vaccination requirement for domestic travel,” Tori Emerson Barnes, the group’s executive president said in a statement. “Such a policy would have an unfair, negative impact on families with young children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine.”
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY