A year ago United Airlines offered flights where everyone had to test negative to travel. This was on the Newark – London Heathrow route, and they were trying to show that it was safe to lift travel restrictions under certain conditions.
- They provided free rapid testing on day of travel. This is good for showing that nobody on the flight is currently infectious
- But it doesn’t show that a passenger lacks any level of virus that might be picked up by a PCR test. PCR tests show lower levels of virus, for instance prior to becoming symptomatic or infectious, as well as showing the presence of virus long after someone is no longer infectious.
While test-to-travel is quite common for international journeys, indeed a negative test is required to fly to the U.S. by both residents and visitors, it’s not something that has taken off in the United States where not required by law.
- Airlines only check test or other Covid-related travel documents for destinations where it’s required for entry because they don’t want to be fined or forced to repatriate the traveler on another flight.
- They do not add their own negative test or vaccination requirements for flights where government authorities do not insist on it.
That seems to be a lost opportunity. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has been all over the media trumpeting United’s success getting its employees (but not employees of its regional airline partners) vaccinated, as though this should make customers want to choose United. The person sitting in the middle seat next to you on United, though, may not have been vaccinated and doesn’t have to test negative prior to travel.
It might be tougher for other airlines, with less vaccinated crews, to offer ‘all vaccinated’ flights. But why not offer this as a test to see whether this would generate market share on a competitive route?
Commenter Robert writes,
It would be interesting for an airline to experiment with “vaccinated only” flights on routes between places with high vaccination rates – e.g., SFO-JFK, and see what market forces do. I suspect there would be demand for such flights.
I just flew SFO-LHR and it was nice to know that everyone on the flight was vaccinated.
I’d love to see a vaccinated and tested route like New York – Los Angeles or New York – San Francisco. Vaccinated isn’t enough because ‘one dose Johnson & Johnson counts’ indeed for entry into the U.S. the government accepts Sinovac Coronavac which the World Health Organization says shows no evidence of reduced infection or transmission, and was deemed 51% effective against symptomatic disease pre-Delta variant.
Airlines traditionally do not market or ‘compete on’ safety, but that’s a stance limited to the safety of actual flight, and both Delta and United have aggressively marketed their Covid safety measures and Alaska Airlines even turned it into a music video.
Anthony Fauci has said he wants a vaccine requirement for domestic air travel. I don’t think this would be legal, impinging as it does on the right to travel. As a commercial decision by an airline, without government pressure, to offer a vaccinated flight option it seems like a great idea.
So let’s give this a shot, see if the requirement attracts more business and shifts market share. I’d go out of my way, flying at less convenient times and an airline I don’t usually choose, to know that the person in the middle seat next to me is far less likely to have and spread Covid.