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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. I absolutely agree with the measure. It will facilitate more business. Many people will be willing to pay more for flights with a vaccinated crew.

  2. Given the evidence that naturally acquired immunity is stronger than vaccine mediated immunity why do you continue to propose vaccination? Your proposed flights ought to allow for previous recovery also. Indeed since natural immunity is stronger and those who have recovered are far less likely to have or spread COVID than solely vaccinated individuals perhaps the flights should only allow those who’ve recovered.

  3. I’m actually keeping my fingers crossed that this becomes a rule. I just don’t want to travel for work anymore. I’m done with it, it’s just not fun anymore. If this becomes a rule, then I’m off the hook for business travel.

  4. I would gladly pay more for a flight where there is a vaccine/recent test requirement.

    The pro plague crowd that continues to scream about “freedom” to fly without vaccination or mask continues to either ignore or be blissfully unaware of the potential consequences of a COVID infection. As well, they continue to either ignore or be unaware of the guidance from qualified public health officials that unmasked/unvaccinated persons are at higher risk of transmitting infection to others, especially those who are at higher risk because they are immunocompromised or ineligible to receive the vaccine.

    The US government has been regulating aviation safety for decades. The current time is no exception. If the airlines refuse to step up, a mandate should be imposed on them.

  5. Fauci is a Terrorist.
    He will demand that everyone who wants to fly, get vaccinated and then he will. demand that they wear a mask also.
    I was vaccinated in April. My body, my choice.

  6. Bill Cummings – the immunocompromised need to keep off the planes or accept the risk as no airline vaccine mandated flights will protect them from the crowds mulling about in the airports and in the security lines. The TSA checkpoint will expose them unmasked to every other passenger unmasked who has transited the same space. If flying is a necessity (and most is not) then the immunocompromised can get their booster shot, buy business class seats for greater social distancing, wear K95/KN95 masks and qualify for precheck or other expedited security lines. The immunocompromised should take accountability for their own safety.

  7. I don’t know if commenters are really uniformed, or are willfully ignoring facts in order to make political talking points, but there are 2 important reasons for vaccines and masks that I hardly ever hear acknowledged by people talking about their freedom to be unvaccinated and/or maskless.

    1) Even people who get asymptomatic Covid (and who may never even know it) can become breeding grounds for new mutations which could be far more deadly/contagious, with all the horror that could bring to the world.

    2) The argument that vaccinated people shouldn’t have to worry about wearing masks is narrow thinking. Vaccinated people can still pass on Covid in a place like a plane, airport, etc. to another vaccinated person, who perhaps being asymptomatic can in turn pass it on to a child, older relative who then might die. It is very selfish to place the convenience of not wearing a mask over the lives of others, even though you may never meet them.

  8. I’m sorry but I’m not paying more for a flight for any reason these days.
    Flying is already expensive to the point I drive instead so this just cements that I’m not going to choose air travel in the future.

    Why does vaccinated only flights sound like a ploy just for airlines to be able to charge people more?
    Because that’s how this really sounds as opposed to being strictly about public health and safety.

    As for the vaccinated who want to throw their privilege around and say they don’t need to wear masks just because they got vaccinated, yeah, you do because even though you are vaccinated, booster shots are now being required because they are finding that after a few months the effectiveness of the vaccines drops just as sharply as the value of a new car leaving the dealership lot.
    So there is still a chance that you could contract and spread covid around like cooties at a frat party.

  9. @Rick

    Totally agree! The only way we get rid of Covid is make transmission as close to zero as possible. Every person who is vaccinated develops antibodies at different rates, and some hardly at all. America has turned into an “it’s all about me” society. Which makes the Covid pandemic into a never ending endemic virus that goes on forever. All because a few only think about themselves.

  10. Actually, it should be required that every passenger get an antibody levels check done and if your vaccine “immunity” is below a certain threshold, you are denied boarding and immediately carted off for a booster shot. After all, your “immunity” has waned and even though you are “fully vaccinated” you aren’t.

    Reminds me of countries that have caste systems, or countries that recognize one religion as superior to another.

  11. You’re an educated man, right Gary? So why would you advocate something as dumb as this? We know that the vaccinated and the unvaccinated get Covid, with the UK data now clearly showing that vaxed over 30 get MORE Covid (the US refuses to release this data, no doubt because it’s very politically embarrassing). We also know that vaccine efficacy fades QUICKLY, in a matter of months. We also know that airplanes are not vectors of infection.

    Just because there are lots of other hysterical elites advocating for dumbass things doesn’t mean you should embarrass yourself with even dumber ideas. The world does not need more hysteria. It needs people to follow the science, where ever it leads.

  12. When booster shot number FOUR (such as planned in Israel) is required to leave your home, remember that to keep making the same mistake over and over while expecting different results is the definition of crazy. Good luck following the “leadership” of Pfauci.

  13. James, you are SO RIGHT! Natural immunity is WAY better.
    When are people going to get it thru their thick skulls thst this people that get this “wonderful” vaccine are still getting covid! Once again, they need to look into Israel…
    Sure hope airlines won’t do this because a lot of people won’t be flying!

  14. Why? For a false sense of security? Vaccination does not prevent the spread of Covid-19. In fact, it can be argued that it increases the spread due to limited symptoms or completely asymptomatic cases within the vaccinated population. Look at Israel, at one point they had the highest vaccination rate in the world and at that same time had the highest covid cases per capita in the world. Unfortunately, this is too much of a political issue…so simple facts like that get brushed under the rug,

  15. Flyers who are concerned should be enhancing their own immunity and checking their antibodies. The vaccine WILL NOT prevent you from getting Covid. PERIOD.
    It may prevent you from getting a bad case.
    It may also be giving vaccinated flyers a false sense of security over their own health.
    Get your own antibodies tested before flying.
    Demand RAPID TESTS be available for ALL flyers at the airport.
    Rapid Test shows active cases right now, not 72 hours ago.
    Three years down the road, when all the studies are done and they find that the healthy, unvaccinated persons or those with natural immunity are actually enhancing our microcosm by NOT having their immune systems tweaked by a vaccine…then maybe the vaccinated will be prohibited from flying.
    Be careful what you ask for.

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