CEOs Of All Major US Airlines To Joe Biden: Lift Mask Mandates & Testing Rules Now

The 7 day moving average of confirmed Covid-19 cases is down over 96% from peak. Hospitalizations are at their lowest level since the start of the pandemic. We have vaccines and boosters and monoclonal antibodies and small molecule inhibitors – ways to prevent severe disease and to treat it – tools we were only beginning to have when restrictions were put in place.

Against this backdrop the CEOs of Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and United – along with the heads of FedEx, UPS, and Atlas Air – have written to President Biden telling him enough is enough.

The letter begins by flattering the Administration. After all, U.S. airlines are wards of the state after receiving $79 billion in subsidies during the pandemic. They note that they required masks before the government did – and yet don’t point out that meant the federal mask requirement did nothing to change policy – instead suggesting administration policy was somehow effective against Covid-19).

But then they go on to say that it’s time to list mask requirements and testing rules for entering the U.S.

Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask
mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological

On testing they point out that Canada, the U.K., and E.U. all dropped testing rules and that testing didn’t keep out variants. On masks they point out that the CDC says 99% of the country no longer needs to mask indoors.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian adds,

Considering the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, the federal mask mandate and pre-departure testing no longer fits with the current environment.

This is clearly correct. Anyone who wishes can travel with a well-fitted N95 mask. The federal government even arranged to offer these masks for free.

No one has been able to articulate any value in continued testing as a requirement for travel at this point. However there’s some worry that even though rules aren’t needed at today’s level of virus transmission and hospitalization there could be future need for rules and therefore some are reluctant to remove them.

The risk story is that the B.A.2 variant might evade immunity from prior infection among the unvaccinated and lead to spikes in cases and – to a lesser extent – hospitalizations. Surely, though, we’re not imposing restrictions on everyone to protect those unwilling to be vaccinated? And young children for whom no vaccine has yet been approved face less risk from the virus than vaccinated adults.

Ultimately advocates of continued restriction worry that it’ll be ‘hard to re-impose rules once lifted’ rather than worrying that they look stupid arguing for restrictions when restrictions aren’t needed. Or they worry that policymakers would be too slow to react in re-imposing restrictions if they were necessary.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s underspecified and supports restrictions forever but doesn’t admit it. Anyone advocating continued restrictions has the burden to lay out the off ramp. Under what specific conditions and metrics would they actually support an end to emergency pandemic rules?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Well, will he? @Gary, I guess you’re still thinking no, right?
    It would be a good move to admit reality, and get this done (but, facing reality and enacting sound policy isn’t something this admin has been strong on to say the least, so…)

  2. Gary, the case rate is still 100% higher than it was before this completely naturally occurring virus found it’s way into a supermarket next to a lab researching coronaviruses. People are dying everywhere and even the vaccinated are catching and spreading the disease.

    Many of us have compromised immune systems and insist that we do the only humane thing available, lock down until we can flatten the curve once and for all. Look to Shenzhen for a good model on how we might be able to go about doing this.

    What we need to do is enforce people wearing N95s with two additional protection layers (I’ll leave which ones to the expert scientists). We also need additional law enforcement to enforce the rules as it’s the people who don’t take this panic, I mean pandemic, seriously that are causing us all so much unnecessary misery.

  3. The metric I’ve been looking at is: can my local hospital maintain/service appointments without needing to reschedule them excessively, and so far things haven’t been great. Now, it might be that they abused their employees and have lower capacity, rather than direct COVID threat, but I should be able to see my gastroenterologist for a normal appointment. In Georgia here.

  4. @ Gary — The crazies will be even crazier when the masking rules return in December 2022 or so…

  5. I certainly hope they lift the testing requirement at least by the same day the mask mandate is set to expire. We are flying from SIN to SFO on April 18th. Of course, Singapore Airlines may keep their masking policy regardless of any US rule changes, but not having to take a pre departure test would remove so much hassle and anxiety.

    Also looking forward to finally getting some free alcoholic beverages in Main Cabin Extra on American on our onward domestic flight, if we don’t get upgraded.

  6. @fiona

    it’s incredibly selfish for you to be more concerned about getting free drinks on your luxury American Airlines flights than the safety and well being of the most vulnerable in our communities. Unacceptable!

  7. I think it helps that they are united in raising their voices. I just returned from an overseas trip and the anxiety and cost are there. I paid $90 for a test by a lab that guaranteed results quickly enough to board my flight. If the testing was accomplishing something important, then it could be argued that the cost is worth it, but I don’t care for spending the time and money when there is no longer any legitimate argument for it. I know that there will be quite a few who are reluctant to give up their masks and tests – and they are certainly welcome to keep them for themselves – but being fully vaccinated I know my chances of any severe outcomes from Covid are next to nothing and it’s time to end the restrictions.

  8. Politicians are fanatically driven by their ideologies and few have the ability to admit they were later wrong.
    EVERYTHING about covid mitigation except for vaccinations and some therapeutics that have been used by the west and esp. the US has been ineffective.
    Anyone that thinks they are protected from covid by others wearing a piece of fabric or flimsy paper is fooling themselves.
    There is a segment of the population that will not return to the skies until the mask mandate is removed and airlines know they need that revenue.
    Despite the calls to lock up and ban anyone w/ bad behavior, airline CEOs know full well that masks have led to a huge deterioration in the quality of flying – and their crew members are caught in the crossfire.

    There was never a scientific justification for the transportation mask mandate as it was implemented and it is time to go.
    Testing hasn’t kept anything out of anywhere.

    It is time for all of the charade to end and those that are generally concerned about their health to do what they had to do before covid – stay home if they felt they were vulnerable.

  9. If anyone is immunocompromised then YOU stay in a forever lockdown. YOU wear the N95 with 2 additional masks. Nothing is preventing you from staying locked in your house or wearing 10 masks if you want. Don’t make anyone else.

  10. @Stephen.

    Get on with life. We can’t stay forever locked down. They simply do NOT work and even countries that foolishly tried to stay locked down didn’t work. It’s unacceptable for people like you to expect people to stay locked down and wear masks that don’t really work.

    Like I said, if people like you want to stay forever locked up in a bubble go crazy. No one is stopping you.

  11. Are you sure you want the mask mandate to end? You seem to average a couple of mask articles a week.
    After April, what are you going to write about? What are the anti-masking Karens going to complain about?

  12. Remember when everyone said follow the science and many of us asked what science, this is all political. They’ve never been willing to define when these mandates would end. How much more evidence do you need that this administration doesn’t give a shit about the science or us.

  13. I would change the test and mask rule. What people really care about is getting stuck away from home. What I would change the test requirement is to 36 hours before departure, and if the test is late or positive, that the passenger be required to wear a N95 or similar mask during the flight, with a fit test.

  14. Or just keep a PDF of an old test and edit the date if your test doesn’t come back in time, or you test positive. All the airlines want to do is check the box and get you on your way.

  15. Despite the great advances touted by the airline CEOs and this blog, the February Covid 2022 peak was about 2,500 Americans dying everyday from Covid. That is not far from the worst of the pandemic in 2020.

    As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, Covid hasn’t been conquered nor has it gone away. In the U.S., there have been four peaks and troughs since March 2020. There is no reason to believe that pattern won’t repeat. We are likely in one of the troughs before another surge sorry to say.

    Airline CEOs are paid to make money for their companies not to concern themselves with public health. It was the profit motive (increasing consumer confidence) that led them to adopt the mask rule in in the first place. And it is revenue and profits that leads them to ask for the repeal of the government mandate.

    Humans are no match for an invisible virus. We are undisciplined and quickly tire of the safety measures that protect us. A virus has all of the advantages. It is analogous to what Reese told Sarah Connor in the movie The Terminator:

    “That terminator (virus) is out there, it cant be bargained with, it cant be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop… EVER, until you are dead!”

    Covid won’t kill everyone of course, but we should understand what removing public health restrictions could mean. Conversely, the cost of keeping the restrictions must be considered as well. It is a moral and ethical question for which different people have different answers.

  16. @Stephen W
    “the most vulnerable in our communities” don’t deserve to exist anymore.

  17. Grabbing my popcorn now…looks like Stephen W is already ahead of the virtue signaling pack

  18. The airlines should perhaps mention that they will need to “reconsider” donating to the Democrat Party come November if the Leader of the Democrat Party seems unwilling to adhere to common sense.
    Because if there is one thing that scares a politician it is not getting a handout from its donors.

  19. Can’t wait till the midterms elections! Sweep everyone out of their office! Time for a reset for sure.

  20. John, very reasonable considerations but as a medical layperson (I do have experience in public health) I’ll just add a couple of points to the mix. First, the death count from COVID is questionable. It could well be higher due to unreported or misdiagnosed cases, particularly abroad, but it could also be a lot lower, especially here. Consider a friend of ours, who had severe diabetes to the point of amputation, developed dementia, and then caught the virus. She is an official casualty, but really it was everything together, perhaps the other factors more than the virus. Many other cases seem to be similar, with the disease just the last push.

    Second, you are absolutely right we could well have additional peaks: this winter, when a new variant comes along, whatever. But really, this is nothing new. There have been waves of pandemics across the known world at least back to the ancient Greeks. Humans and the pathogens will adjust to each other (imagine if this time pneumonia was the new disease). That will happen again and I suspect fairly soon because the world can’t go on like this. I do agree with your astute observation that people have different answers and I’d say we have to find a general consensus. It’s a bit like folks who want zero risk. That doesn’t exist and sooner or later we have to agree on what is an acceptable level–I think we are moving there now. Even China will have to get out of denial sooner or later and we’ll go on, just as we have with AIDS, Legionnaire’s Disease and a host of other unpleasantries.

  21. @drrichard, When this pandemic ends, if not sooner, there needs to be a thorough and objective review of just about everything related it. There is probably a good chance this pandemic won’t be the last one in the lifetime of many in the current population and the world is only becoming more interconnected every day. The country needs a game plan that can be modified to fit future outbreaks. If there is a pre-existing plan or guide, that might reduce the chance that political considerations dominate the response one way or the other. Maybe.

    To my knowledge, it is not possible to determine how someone got infected or who infected them. That is why some can be cavalier about complying with safety measures, spreading the virus, and causing severe illness or death in others. If it was possible to identify who infected who, there would be much stronger issues of personal morality not to mention the potential legal liability issues. Covid is any interesting study in group morality and ethics.

    We’ll soon surpass 1 million dead Americans (if you accept the counting methodology). That is a tragedy not to mention millions more who suffered through serious illness. Those folks would probably like to still be living. It is kind of amazing how unfazed many people are.

  22. The country needs a game plan that can be modified to fit future outbreaks.

    Not everyone is as myopic as those in this and other travel forums who want the pandemic declared gone and are calling for preventive measures that have “tamed the bug” to be simply be dropped without further delay so that they can get back to the business of redeeming their points and miles in hedonistic pursuits.

    CDC to Invest $2.1 Billion to Protect Patients and Healthcare Workers from COVID-19 and Future Infectious Diseases:

    Today, the Biden-Harris Administration announced a $2.1 billion investment to improve infection prevention and control activities across the U.S. public health and healthcare sectors.

    — CDC Sep 17, 2021

    Good policy can also be good politics.

    — US National Science Foundaton (NSF): Researchers apply COVID-19 lessons to prevent future pandemics.

    The Rockefeller Foundation Invests USD150 Million to Prevent Future Pandemics and Calls for Greater Collaboration to Build a Global Early Warning System.

    Prevention is vastly cheaper than fighting or curing infectious diseases. Therefore, I hope that authorities will lift the preventive measures that have worked so well against COVID-19 by relying on hard science rather than on letters from overcompensated airline CEOs concerned about their falling stocks.

  23. It’s the tyranny of the weak that the left has brought us. A world run by immunocompromised transvestites who cry over micro aggressions. This is how the UK went from an empire to a dad little feminized island nanny state. We are on the same path.

  24. @Greg Alto – You want mindless bravado? Then move to China; better yet, join Putin’s regime and go horseback riding with him bare chested or engage in stupid wars of aggression. That is what is considered being ‘strong’ in MAGAland. Mindless.


  25. @DCS – if you’re “smart” enough to believe Putin is the only bad guy (between him and Zelensky), I have a COVID vaccine I can sell you that is guaranteed you will never got COVID again. I will also give you a Hilton Diamond status that promises a guaranteed upgrade and you’ll never have to pay for a breakfast, either. **rolls eyes**

    I assure you DCS – you really need to stop using words like MAGA to justify the moronic stance of the current administration in regards to pretty much every topic that it can botch. Traveling, oil prices, foreign policy, border security, COVID, money printing, you name it. In other words – you wouldn’t have to mindlessly use big words like MAGA if the Biden Administration didn’t live their lives in fear while trying to create a New World Order.

    Long live mandatory COVID vaccinations and worthless mask policies!!!

    And think – Hilton is quickly turning into Marriott.. no matter how much you write. Can’t wait to see Category 9 and 10 pop up so you can spin it as a positive.

    – a soon to be former diamond member

  26. @DCS – if you’re “smart” enough to believe Putin is the only bad guy (between him and Zelensky), I have a COVID vaccine I can sell you that is guaranteed you will never got COVID again.

    Clear;y a Russian bot. Not only am I “smart” enough to know beyond the shadow of any doubt that Putin is the bad guy, nearly the entire world, including increasing numbers of Russians know it too, save for China’s authoritarian communist regime and the “former guy” and his MAGA sycophant. Russia is a pariah state and Putin’s days are numbered.

    I feel soiled just for responding to that utterly stupid comment.

  27. At this point, I don’t even know what the “science” suggests. The CDC is still withholding volumes of data that they have collected throughout the pandemic.

  28. For all those anti-testers nowadays when it comes to US-bound flights who claim that “we are all going to have Covid if we haven’t had it already”, they get as long as a six-month break from testing if they present a recent certificate of recovery from Covid-19.

  29. @Bill — What is your evidence that “the CDC is still withholding volumes of data that they have collected throughout the pandemic”?

  30. Some speak here about the US being in a state of being locked down when flying. Having a requirement to wear a mask or to take a Covid test to fly is a far cry from being in a state of lockdown.

    While the US pandemic response requirements for flying seem set to be phased out pretty soon, there are other aspects of the flying experience in the US that are going to remain a problem for quite some time and then some.

  31. From NYT article

    “The C.D.C. is a political organization as much as it is a public health organization,” said Samuel Scarpino, managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute. “The steps that it takes to get something like this released are often well outside of the control of many of the scientists that work at the C.D.C.”

    The performance of vaccines and boosters, particularly in younger adults, is among the most glaring omissions in data the C.D.C. has made public.

    Last year, the agency repeatedly came under fire for not tracking so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated Americans, and focusing only on individuals who became ill enough to be hospitalized or die. The agency presented that information as risk comparisons with unvaccinated adults, rather than provide timely snapshots of hospitalized patients stratified by age, sex, race and vaccination status.

  32. If the lift the testing requirement, you will see a huge uptick in international travel. I know I will be on the next flight then.

    I am not as concerned now about the virus, unless there is a new uptick in cases, I am fine wearing my N95 mask. Other people don’t have to and I am fine with that.

  33. @Tom — There is nothing more dangerous than to release information that has not been thoroughly evaluated for scientific rigor… There is no conspiracy to withhold data. It just takes time to ensure the reliability and accuracy of the raw data and the validity of their interpretation. Moreover, some data may be not be the CDC’s alone to release.They could have been provided by a private entity and, thus , contain copyrighted or proprietary information…

    Are you a scientist?

  34. I got the mask stuff early on and until the vaccine. I was religious in use. However, at that point, an off ramp should have been devised. As soon as I saw no off ramp, I became adamantly opposed to mandatory masking. Thankfully, I live in SD with leaders who have common sense.

  35. My daughter is a teacher in a child care/preschool center. For two long years, the center followed all the rules and never once had to shut down because too many of their staff had contracted covid. Until the center earlier this month agreed masks could come off. A week later, three teachers who had never had Covid, HAD COVID, and parents had to be told that one of the classrooms would be shut down until the teachers were better and could come back to work. So, you’ll have to stay home and take care of your kids. I’ll choose to keep my mask on during my flight to France next month. I don’t want to have covid on my vacation.

  36. @DCS

    You’re brainwashed and easily manipulated.

    You probably said the same thing during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Those of us who did our research clearly were proven right. You have no idea what this civil war in the Ukraine is about.

  37. @Koggerj — Anyone who’s commented in this space knows that “brainwashed and easily manipulated” is not a description that applies to me. On the other hand, tovarish, you are clearly a Russian bot. There is no “civil war” in Ukraine. It is a war of aggression against a sovereign nation. And speaking of “Afghanistan wars” just recall Russia’s own misadventure there…

    As a left-leaning “centrist”, I was against the Iraq war and lukewarm to going into Afghanistan to hunt for Bin Laden.

    До свидания !

  38. KoggerJ,

    I called bunk on the GW Bush’s invasion of Iraq before it even took place.

    I also said that the Bush invasion of Iraq would cost us what little chance there was in Afghanistan, a country that has long been the graveyard of empire.

    Ukraine is a war of Putin’s/Russia’s choice since Putin’s Russia invaded Ukraine.

    Ukraine is very different than Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan and Iraq were wars of Bush’s/America’s choice and invaded by the US. Ukraine remains a war of Putin’s/Russia’s choice since it was Putin/Russia who have repeatedly invaded Ukraine.

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