It’s Time For Vaccinated-Only Flights In The U.S.

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.

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. Anthony Fauci created this virus and belongs in jail. He is the last person we should be listening to.

  2. This is why most international travel feels safer to me than domestic travel right now. When boarding a nonstop flight to a destination that requires vaccination and/or test, I can sit on the plane assured that the possibility of infection is very low.

    In contrast, my domestic flights are shoulder-to-shoulder with who-knows-what, and when passing through hubs where vax rates are low and infection rates above-average it feels like another spin at the roulette table.

  3. Conversely I am supportive of a no vaccine requirement and no mask requirement flight option. I would call it “Freedom Flight”. I like freedom, the free market and having choices and letting the chips fall as they may. It is time for the mask requirement ridiculously imposed by the Federal government be dropped. Airlines should lobby for this so we can allow the market to shape the availability of various options for flying. Honestly, though I find it irrational to now be so concerned about the vaccination status of others in the seats next to us on a plane when prior to this date this was not an issue….like I said in a previous post I don’t recall loony people grabbing me by the lapel asking for my polio, MMR or any other vaccine proof on a plane…and vaccination rates are not as high as you think and no everyone is not vaccinated for everything you I am…but my body has an immune system that I support with healthy living and diet and supplements…and if I’m vaccinated who cares about anyone else…that is unless the vaccine I took was weak, leaky etc. …it would be a good study to see the difference between these airline offerings…kind of like the mask data from FL that shows no statistical difference between mandatory mask districts and most that are mask optional resulting in most kids ditching the mask!

  4. No, it’s not time. Covid cases are on the decline. It’s time to end all covid related mandates. We need to accept the fact that covid isn’t going anywhere and it’s going to be a part of our lives now, much like influenza. This is something we’re just going to have to live with going forward.

  5. If you’re vaccinated, why would you care if the person next to you isn’t? You’re protected. S/he isn’t. I’m vaccinated. I’m more concerned about being near BO or a screaming child.

  6. Yeah! Segregation!!!!

    That’s the solution!
    “You don’t believe what we believe? You Can’t Travel!”

    Great idea.

    History is full of examples of it working really well.

  7. Covid is endemic and never going away. Do you really want to live like this forever? In addition to the TSA security nonsense we all have to go through, adding negative tests and vaccine proof means even more hassle to fly.

    Do you really want to take a covid test every time you fly for the rest of your life? And wear masks forever as well?

    Covid is neved going away. It amazes me how so many people still think we can eradicate this virus. Any measure you want implemented will never go away.

  8. I am vaccinated and really don’t care if the person next to me is or not. And whether or not they are wearing a mask. That is the point of me taking the vaccination. This virus will be with us forever. It is time we start living our lives and enjoying the freedom of choice that make the US great, not the government mandating everything we do.

  9. No more mandates. What ridiculous stupidity form everyone. Why would someone who recovered from the virus take the vaccine ? The government doesn’t know shit. They have no idea:

    How long does immunity last ?
    Who needs to take booster shots ?
    When do booster shots need to be taken ?

    Answer those questions with 100% certainty then maybe we can talk

    I took the vaccine and support it. But NO mandates !

    This administration is Going to ruin the aviation industry

  10. I agree. Absolutely zero segregation. All flights are free of masks and requirements. Each person has the right to take the level of protection they wish. Board the flight in a HAZMAT suit for all I care. Each person gets to choose how to protect themselves and we all live happily ever after.

  11. The virus has a 99.8% survival rate. Vaccines don’t appear to work very well. If you have comorbidities and choose not to be vaccinated, I suggest you stay home. Your choice.

    If the US government was serious about controlling Covid, we would not have a wide open Southern border.

  12. I quite agree with many of the commentators, this isn’t disappearing any more than the “war on drugs” or the Afghanistan conflict produced success. (Regarding the latter I was all over that country before the wars and could see exactly where the U.S. military-oriented policy was going to take us. Of course no one wanted to hear that at the time.)

    Unfortunately getting the U.S., or maybe any government, to level with the people is very difficult. Too many folks still think that humans “control” nature and therefore any epidemic must be a vast conspiracy. Sorry, diseases happen. Eventually it will get through to most people that this is here to stay and our best outcome is to naturally adapt, as in fact animals have to viruses throughout Earth’s history of life. Epidemiologists are doing their best to moderate the impact but I think they know it’s at best a fight to a draw. Hopefully many of the very marginal policies in place now will disappear–social distancing already seems like it’s dead. So adding more restrictions would likely drive everybody crazier than they are now.

  13. Actually, it should be the EXACT opposite, as usual, since its already proven (Israel, Singapore, Iceland, etc., etc.) that the “vaccinated” (more of a therapeutic obviously and not a true vaccine) are the ones who are the “super-spreaders” of the common-cold virus. Personally, I don’t care if you are vaccinated or not when I fly but at least everyone can agree that masks do nothing to stop the spread of a virus (read the back of the package that the mask came in where it specifically states that it does NOT stop viral transmission–you’re welcome).

  14. It’s refreshing to see the comments are turning on this Covid nonsense. Except for @DiscoDave who’s obviously bought into the hysteria and the author who I generally otherwise trust, hoorah for everyone else who’s seeing through these ridiculous mandates, rules and tyranny. @Mark Rascio is right on point. Hoping the tide keeps on turning….

  15. Amen! I used to fly a lot and haven’t taken a flight since Feb 2020. This would go a long way toward getting me back as a passenger. If someone doesn’t care enough about me and their community to be vaccinated I should have options not to sit near them.

  16. @ Stephen W — You should see if you can get a reduction on your cable bill since you only watch FoxNews (which requires its employees be vaccinated).

  17. I have flown only twice on short haul in the us because of the ‘freedom’ to have any sick person sit next to me.

    On the other hand, I have flown to Europe twice and spend the summer flying all around the continent feeling 100% safe because pretty much everyone is tested pre flight or vaccinated, partially due to destination reqs and partially because Ryanair and others just decided to make the rules simpler and requested it to board.

    I think it should be vaxed or tested, as some people cannot take the vaccine and those really do need the protection of a safe flight.

    Mind you this is very hard to do here because last pcr test I had to take in the us took 4 days to come back. For comparison, I took one in Prague this summer and it took 3 hours (antigen take about 5 mins there) and they are available at all airports.

  18. I can’t tell if all the people who read this blogs are ignorant or just making jokes.

    We need vaccine requirements to go to school and get on planes. And they wouldn’t be illegal – you have no right to travel on an airplane and the Federal Government has the exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce.

    Even a flight from LA to SF effects interstate commerce, and the gov’t could regulate it (although he might need congressional authorization).

    Don’t want a vaccine? No problem – just don’t get on an airplane.

  19. @MarkS…I agree, it ‘was’ refreshing to see and I agree with most of the posters supporting the get back to normal philosophy…enough of the fear porn pushed by the daily drive by media including Fox but led by the repeatedly exposed CNN and MSNBC that carry the current boy in a suit President we have and Fauci-ism that is more of a cultist religion at this point than anything else.

    @Kalbotz, it appears since you were replying to @Stephen that you support the unmitigated disaster that the current administration has so quickly created…what have they touched that has not turned sour…I’m forced to conclude that it’s purposely done as a means to an end, because nobody can be this stupid…as one is forced to cancel their boating trip off the souther California coast due to freighter congestion. On all counts that matter we were doing better under Trump including with Covid and you can fact check that…other than perhaps the daily tweets which I’d welcome back to get rid of the brand of ‘unity’ Biden is peddling!

  20. You are great when you stick to your expertise – the miles game. When you wade into the corona, you are way off the mark and your authoritarian tendencies shine through. its quite the shame, especially when you spout antiscientific nonsense.

  21. The was a really bad post, you should delete it. Anything supportive gov’t control over people should be considered sick and disgusting.

  22. @Max Ali…“We need vaccine requirements to go to school and get on planes. And they wouldn’t be illegal”…not for a flu shot…that has never been the case. And all vaccine requirements for schools allow for no hassle exemptions.

    You are definitely a progressive liberal and not a classic liberal. They are a dying breed. Progressive liberals have totalitarian tendencies and it’s becoming more obvious to the majority of reasonable US citizens who value the liberty of a constitutional republic.

    Glad Delta and SW has pushed back against mandates.

    Trump and Biden have both made huge mistakes in handling this “pandemic”…that is really an endemic. Fauci knew this man created virus would mutate over and over. He was in on creating it from the beginning. Glad Rand Paul has called him out for lying. It’s being used to gain more authoritative power in many countries and needs to stop.

  23. It’ll be interesting to study changes in travel demand once the Canadian air travel vaccine mandate comes into effect Oct. 30.

    I predict increased confidence and demand.

    Recovery is dependent on safety, and vaccine mandates are the best tool currently to create a safe(r) environment.

  24. If you’re already vaccinated why do you even care if anyone else is vaccinated or not. Being vaccinated I’m annoyed that I still have to wear mask. I couldn’t care less about the other people on the flight

  25. @SMR did you *read* the post? I am against government vaccine requirements to travel, here I am favoring a single airline voluntarily offering a flight that requires vaccination to see if customers would go out of their way to choose it. Far from government control, this post endorses freedom.

  26. @Manuel oh really, bow about these Covid predictions from June 2020 which were spot on.. including that we’d have an approved vaccine before end of year, widely available in spring?

    Indeed these predictions from mid-March 2020 even look pretty good, considering how little we knew at the time

  27. I’m surprised at the amount of vitriol in the comments.

    So long as the vaccination requirement is only for certain flights and not across the board, what’s the big deal? Isn’t more consumer choice a good thing? My only concern is that airlines would eventually try to add a surcharge for vaccinated flights, particularly on routes like JFK-SFO where companies would pay a premium to protect their workers.

    FWIW, Canada is making vaccination mandatory for all plane, train, and boat travel as of October 30. Personally, I’m fine with that.

  28. @Avery: I generally agree with that prediction, although I think demand will lag in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and eastern Ontario because of the large number of unvaccinated people in those areas.

  29. Gary, You need to come up with a name for the system of government where a socialist regime forces a private company behind the scenes to adopt its preferred policy.

    I don’t know why, but somehow a word starting with the letter F seems like it has possibilities…

  30. I couldn’t find the right to travel anywhere in the constitution. Canada begins vaccinated only flying in November. We will see how that goes.

  31. Thanks, Gary, for speaking up for the right of the majority to get a choice to fly without the disease-spreading anti-vaxxers on board. If it would be permitted then to end masking people would flock to such flights. If we could only make vaccination a requirement for all commercial flying (not what you suggested here), we could end mask wearing once and for all when clear of the TSA checkpoint as well as onboard the planes. Currently the U.S. is experiencing about one of six new cases worldwide, one out of five deaths, and 53% of active cases in the world. It is because of people who don’t get vaccinated.

  32. I’ve been flying both domestically and internationally, all over the planet and up to 17 hours in duration, both commercial (and when not available private or charter) throughout this entire covid nonsense. We did not stop traveling (though some of the paperwork to get into and out of certain places at certain times was a pain in the ass). We haven’t dropped dead from covid, none of our family members have dropped dead (one of our colleagues father passed from lung cancer, apparently two cartons a day is bad for lungs, who knew?). No one in the team was vaxed, only recently one member took the Jansen/J&J (they have diabetes).

    All of this scare mongering bs has been a cover for companies to make money well into the future by forcing people into the never ending booster loop.

    Nothing says “This medicine works great!” like being forced to take a vaccine or lose your ability to travel, dine, or work. Wake up.

  33. So lucky for Kevin no one in his circle got affected by COVID so he should be exempt from all the COVID science and rules!!! He can walk on water…
    Oh no, he does believe the science that cigarettes cause lung cancer.
    So there some hope after all.

  34. I wish the US had adopted nationwide vaccine passports. They could be used as a requirement for boarding planes, entering shopping malls, restaurants, and office buildings. More people would have been vaccinated. As it stands now, unvaccinated people are clogging hospitals and holding back progress toward normalization. We need 80% to reach herd immunity. Slow progress getting there.

  35. Based on the patterns of language used, I think a number of the posts in this thread criticizing vaccines were written by the same person using different names.

  36. I agree, one hundred percent. I would pay double or triple for an all-vaccinated flight. I can imagine many others would feel the same way, so why not offer it and let the market decide?

  37. I’m vaccinated therefore I most likely won’t get sick let alone die. I don’t care if anyone else is vaccinated as it doesn’t have any bearing on me up or down. Finally, this is all bullshit. If you can still get it and give it while vaccinated what’s the point of masks? If someone else isn’t vaccinated, that’s THEIR problem, not mine. Finally,
    the multi-billion dollar covid industry that has been created will be here for as long as democrats are in charge.

  38. Gary, what kind of travel deal I am going to get from those fully vaccinated flights? Would AA offer me even 100 miles if I am fully vaccinated? That would be a cool move from the AA leadership if they care about vaccination.
    This is what you should be writing about whether you are truly scared of Covid or desperate of getting more traffic through your blog.
    On my side I was truly enjoying flying long-haul Qatar in Q-suites because of excellent catering and no mask enforcement. Then spending time in Africa where nobody cares about masks was also great – you forget about this US craziness. .

  39. Some of the rhetoric and hyperbole in the responses are staggering.

    Let’s get one crucial fact straight; being vaccinated DOES NOT PREVENT YOU CATCHING THE VIRUS. Whether your seat neighbour is vaccinated or not, the risk of them passing on the infection to you if they are positive is EXACTLY the same as for someone who is not vaccinated.

    So what would be the purpose of a segregated flight for vaccinated only ?

    It’s as inane as those “Baby on board” signs people put in their cars, more for a “look at me; I’ve got a baby!” than for their intended purpose. Perhaps you’d like the cabin crew to do a special PA “and we’d like to thank all those on board for getting jabbed; thank you for your service to the Pharma industry.”

    I say this as a fully vaccinated person. Being vaccinated provides me with reassurance that, should I get infected at some point, the chances of being hospitalised or killed by it, are greatly reduced. It’s a ticket to relative normality in life, nothing more.

    Vaccinated flights only..? Nah.

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