The Requirement For A Negative Test To Fly To The U.S. Has Become A Farce

The U.S. government requires a negative Covid-19 for anyone – including citizens and residents – to enter the country by air. This was a way to appear to be ‘doing something’ about the virus, but it hasn’t actually protected us against the virus. It might have made sense at the start of the pandemic but the CDC wasn’t prepared to implement measures to keep the virus out. Now, with widespread vaccination, it’s time to end this restriction.

The testing requirement is a joke, it does little to protect us, but it adds costs and uncertainty to travel and impinges on the fundamental right that citizens have to return to their country.

One reader shared their story of shopping for a negative test after several positives. All they needed was one (possibly false) negative to enter the country.

Another recent story is about what testing actually looks like at some resorts in Mexico. Hotels responded rapidly to provide testing to ensure that they’d continue to see a flow of American visitors. But it doesn’t mean the testing is providing any assurance.

At one property the test consisted of,

  • A momentary, gentle brush over the inside tip of the nose

  • Less than a three minute wait for results

There wasn’t likely much sample to collect, nor enough time to actually evaluate the sample if there had been. But it was enough to get a piece of paper that said negative. Much of it is theater at this point. And now that CDC has lowered the risk level for 110 countries it’s time to drop the theater, too.

  1. Testing doesn’t keep out people who are Covid-19 positive. The testing requirement applies only to entry into the U.S. by air. It doesn’t apply at other borders.

  2. Almost any test will do including three day old antigen tests from low quality providers all over the world. So why do we think this provides any kind of assurance?

  3. Doesn’t stop variants. Variants are already here. The Indian (Delta) variant entered the country even with this requirement in place. It’s now about 10% of cases nationally. And the virus mutates in similar ways around the world, anywhere the virus is prevalent we’ll see variants whether they enter from abroad or not.

  4. Anyone teen or adult who wants a vaccine can have one. So who are we protecting? Kids who can’t yet get vaccinated are generally at lower risk than vaccinated older Americans. Are we protecting people who have chosen not to get vaccinated? If we’re maintaining restrictions to protect the very small number of immunocompromised people who appear to produce limited antibodies to vaccines we should say so. Otherwise it’s just theater.

  5. Vaccinated people shouldn’t be tested prior to entry. The CDC exempts those who have recently recovered from the virus from its testing requirement, but not those who have been vaccinated.

    The mRNA vaccines are incredibly effective against even asymptomatic infection (being a carrier), according to CDC data. And those who have been vaccinated and somehow do carry the virus aren’t very likely to spread it (for instance because of lower viral loads). That’s why the CDC lifted the mask guidance for vaccinated individuals. They should lift the testing requirement, too.

It’s time to lift the testing requirement, at a minimum for vaccinated U.S. residents.

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. It was a farce from the beginning. They implemented it a year after the outbreak began at the point when the virus was already everywhere in America.

  2. It seems to be straightforward harassment for daring to leave the U.S. Hopefully a court will declare that someone barred from reentry was illegally treated. But eventually this will go away when it becomes too self-evident that it is useless. Unfortunately governments tend to move slowly and once they have policies in place it is difficult for the egos and institutions involved to admit they might have been wrong or have become outmoded.

  3. Time to exempt the vaccinated As long as governments play the “It doesn’t matter if you’re vaccinated” game, we keep falling short of herd immunity and the virus remains a threat. If we really want to defeat COVID, enough with the theater and let’s reward vaccination.

  4. 1000% agree. This is the biggest worry of my upcoming trip. I am fully vaxxed and studies are showing even if I’m infected my viral load is low and transmission is also low.

    Right now I have to place all sorts of contingencies with my animals, my home, and my job in case I get stuck somewhere. And there is zero clarity on how long I would be stuck abroad as the airlines set the rules. And can I get a letter of recovery abroad?

    It’s a mess.

  5. I’m assuming this test will magically disappear one day because it inconveniences the Elites and the Elites don’t like to be inconvenienced. It has kept me from booking vacation travel this summer to Europe because it’s one more hassle and uncertainty that I do not want to have. I do have tickets to Spain in September, figuring that this nonsense would end by then. We’ll see.

  6. Certain airlines require you to get a negative test before boarding their planes. My wife keeps trying to go to Japan,on Japan Airlines, to see her sister with cancer. My understanding is that Japan Airlines itself will not let you board their plane to come back to the US without a negative test. Am I wrong in this understanding????

  7. Yep, you nailed it. Just like the mandated masks for vaccinated travelers. This is all to placate those who are scared to see their shadows. It is even worse in Canada……if it makes anyone feel better about this silliness.

    Biden better wise up, as the the same coalition of folks who put Trump in office with dispose of him if normal is not returned.

  8. This is all the airline unions. It’s the governments way of earning support from them and getting the unions money. Nothing the government does is to benefit its citizens. It’s to benefit the special interests that control the politicians. Enough anger at the airline unions and you will see these farcical testing and mask requirements go away.

  9. It almost makes one wonder if the testing requirement is still in place in order to encourage US tourism dollars to stay in the US. By adding obstacles to get back into the US, numerous travelers may decided to travel within the US.

  10. Excellent assessment of the need to end current testing requirements for returning Americans via air! Our government continues to play theatre on this issue! I’m vaccinated since February and ready to travel. However, all travel plans remain on hold until this ridiculous mandate is lifted!

  11. BTW, it’s an order of magnitude less problematic than the testing, but it will be interesting to see how long the US requires masks to be worn on airplanes. Unfortunately, the ruling class does not want to confront the reality that their mask intervention was 100% ineffective against Covid everywhere (which was the science BEFORE the pandemic). So I don’t see quick movement on this — especially since you can maskless-ly “eat and drink” for the entire flight in First Class without anyone bothering you. Also, it isn’t THAT inconvenient to wear the particularly silly paper cloth mask on your face while you sit for a few hours. I’m sure we’ll be seeing fewer N95s because that gets real unpleasant quickly, especially if you’ve returned to normal life outside of airplanes.

  12. On my return from Georgia, the airlines asked for the proof of the test. I also had to fill out a locator form – neither of which are even collected at the US border, so I had some nice recycling to show for my effort. Stupid. Yes, vaccinated people should be exempt.

  13. @Marlene @Walter — I’ve heard similar anecdotal reports from friends and colleagues who have travelled overseas. But it’s hard to take the risk of not having the proper paperwork. It’s better to play by the rules if you can, even if the rules are silly.

  14. Don’t like the test requirement to return to the USA? No one is forcing anyone to leave the country for leisure travel.

    It isn’t perfect to keep out COVID variants, but it does help. Just like the vaccinations are perfect to prevent infection or illness, but they do help a ton.

    Anything that incentivizes better behavior abroad is perfectly appropriate to reenter the USA during a public health crisis — especially when so many dolts are pretending to be vaccinated and not wearing masks. If they do so outside the USA, they run the risk of not being able to get back. Karma wins.

    Suck it up, buttercups.

  15. It’s not about travel or covid it’s become about control and the optics of doing something. Sad really.

  16. “Farce” is a good word; perhaps a little mild, but a good word, nonetheless. On the one hand, we don’t (out of political correctness?) offer any tangible travel benefit for being vaccinated while, on the other hand, we make the fully vaccinated wear masks on planes that have been proven to have excellent filtration systems in the first place even though the federal government has lifted mask and social distancing mandates in federal buildings for the fully vaccinated. I’m most certainly not an anti-masker (I wear mine even where it’s not required), but the inconsistency, poor messaging and contradictory guidance certainly isn’t doing anything to inspire confidence that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing!

  17. The airline flying people to the US is legally required to ask to see the passenger test results and to get the passengers to submit an attestation form — to the airline, for the airline to retain for 2 years in case the US asks for them. On arrival in the US, the US is generally not asking passengers to show test results. I’ve never been asked for the test results after boarding US-bound flights during this pandemic.

    As a relatively frequent flyer during this pandemic on flights to the US, I would have preferred if the testing requirement was implemented earlier. I still don’t mind the testing requirement that much, even as I would save a bit of time and money if my CDC vaccination record were acceptable in lieu of showing the airline test results.

  18. Yes, it’s all theater. My son returned from Ireland in late May. He had a negative test result from the Irish government (less than 48 hours old), but when he went to check in, AA told him that wasn’t good enough, he needed to go get the test in the airport.. Which was the less accurate form of the test. Makes me think someone’s making money on the tests, because they aren’t cheap.

  19. Just returned from Mexico on Sat. We were easily and quite inexpensively tested at the hotel. The results were requested at check-in on United. At Customs in Houston, it was never asked for. I am actually more worried about getting PCR tests for Dubai. That test usually takes 2-3 days for results. Which puts one into a Catch22, as to timing. There is only a 72 hour window for testing. Just because the USA is still testing isn’t the total issue. It’s all the other places that require testing which are a bigger issue. For business travellers, testing may have to be done for every trip. Time consuming and expensive.

  20. To me, there’s 2 somewhat competing interests here

    1- the desire to safeguard against anyone (citizen or not) importing a case of C19…

    2- the desire to reopen business and get commerce and all the other related parts, moving again.

    The reason i say “competing” is that there IS a solution for #1…. As example, when a non-citizen applies for certain types of visas – such as a K1 (foreign fiancée) they must get a medical screening before visa approval… but.. the local US Embassy only authorizes a very small number of local hospitals/medical facilities do conduct that medical screening – and once done, there’s tight paperwork controls involved to insure document integrity.

    So, to point #1… there IS a way to insure much higher rates of testing integrity…

    but.. that also directly hurts point #2….

    by making testing only available via a very small number of venues, that would most likely drive off intending passengers.. hurting point 2…

    So, by allowing nearly ent clinic to do the C19 testing, you open the door to testing irregularities- but also make it easier to find a place to test.

    I don’t really know that you can truly have option 1 and 2 together – at the same time given how testing is currently done and the timelines that most countries and/or airlines require.

  21. If Biden returns from his trip to Europe, he and his entourage better get a test with negative result before departure, otherwise they can stay in Europe indefinitely.

  22. @JohnB – that’s how it works. CBP isn’t tasked with checking test results, that duty was delegated to the airlines themselves. They also get fined if they don’t comply.

  23. Following this discussion is quite interesting, filled with “I am an American,” and I can damn well do what I want. That about sums it up. On the other hand, I am an American citizen, now a retired resident in Malta. And loving it. As for the virus, the rule in Malta is that you can’t leave the country (air or sea) without a vaccine certificate, current PCR test, or document proving you have had the virus. Fact of life. We just do it. And, from wherever we return from, those same items are required. If we manage to get in without one of the three documents, we are given (and billed E120) a PCR test at the airport, and sent into quarantine, until test returns. An that will be required if you come to the EU.

    Just so that you understand, Malta is lowest number of cases per hundred thousand in the EU, and first in percent of population vaccinated. And in the top five in the world. Yet, we as citizens and residents do not bitch about it because we have had two waves already, and do not want a third one. Why are people who live in America so damn argumentative?

  24. Our Federal Government emitted the CDC vaccination forms but does not respect its own documents. The EU and other countries accept the US CDC vaccination form and do not require testing.

    Why doesn’t the US summarily reject all illegal aliens at our borders? They don’t produce negative Covid test results.

    The Biden Administration denies entry to US citizens with US documents while granting entry to non-US citizens without documents.

    Biden hates America and Americans. (And no, I did not, and would never vote for Trump).

  25. Dumbest lawyer I ever met said the smartest thing I have ever heard that now seems to be the US government/media/politicians motto: “deny everything and stick to the script. Plausible deniability is the greatest defense in any argument”

  26. As a physician who has been frontline worker during covid I completely disagree with your call to end testing requirement. Delta variant is becoming the prevalent strain and while testing requirement cannot 100% prevent positive passengers from arriving in the US, we can at least weed out some of them. In an pandemic, the more you can stop the spread the better. Don’t think that we’re “out of the woods” because a lot of people are vaccinated. We’re seeing an uptick in cases again in countries like UK due to delta variant and we’re unclear how protective mRNA vaccines are against delta variant (so far the data is showing it’s less effective against this variant)
    Declaring victory this early and urging the government to end the requirement, for the purpose of convenience, is irresponsible as a blogger and a citizen.

  27. Looks like Bill is drinking the koolaid and is now part of the flock ! Looks like you are the Buttercup for going along with thus bureaucratic nonsense.

  28. I love testing requirements. Have visited 7 ex-US countries during the pandemic. All but one had testing requirements. Yes, testing adds to cost and limits the number of travelers-and I couldn’t be happier. Have had some of the best trips in years with more space to move around and interaction with locals. I’d happily take a test before every international trip and return to US if it kept the vast majority of Americans in Mexico.

  29. Why can’t the US get its act together and link the CDC vax cards with Customs & Immigration, Border Control, State Department, etc. so vax status shows on the flight manifest, even before boarding the return to USA flight? All those vaxxed are excluded from further hassles, period. It doesn’t have to be mandatory–for all those naysayers. If you are vaxxed and prefer to not upload the CDC card info onto the airline website–the same page where you upload your passport info–it’s your choice, go get a test prior to departure.

    Always baffles me why the simplest solutions go right over the Bureaucratic Elites’ heads.

  30. @Cmordan thumbs down, @Bill thumps up. Only people who should not be wearing masks are the vaccinated. Which we all know, is not what is happening.

  31. Of course it’s stupid! But you’re asking people to rescind this who still double mask, mask during a video conference call, and kiss their spouse through a mask all while having had the vaccination. This is what we voted for right?

  32. Justin – You a physician in NYC, Chicago, LA, SF, Seattle or the like? I am in the midwest. Your woke comments are misled and not supported by science.

  33. I just returned to the US, no one even looked at the test report. We just had to sign a form for the airline attesting that we had a negative test result.

  34. Taki, I am a medical director and a physician leader in incident command center in Boston, one of the hardest hit area. Please point out where my comment was misleading.

  35. @justin – UK delayed 2nd dose which is contributing to the cases increasing. In studies, the mRNA vaccines appear to be holding up against the delta variant.

    Testing has inherent flaws. You’re testing 3 days before boarding a flight and so there is a lag. Would love someone to run the statistics on those tests missing an infection (due to lag) vs breakthrough infection. My guess is they’d be pretty close.

  36. I had to get a test to return from Cairo, of course. I am fully vaccinated. To get my test, I had to take an Uber to a city clinic, one highly regarded, apparently. I got a quick antigen test, but in order to do this, I made my ways down this highly regarded clinic’s hallways through people smoking in the halls (I have asthma, so that made me sick in itself). Masks were, ostensibly, required, but even medical staff were not wearing them. The clinic treated everything and did all sorts of lab tests, so as I sat there among sick people and inhaled hallway smoke, I wondered what actual sickness I might arrive back in the US carrying. I wasn’t worried about COVID. The problem is not even the requirement, though it does fly in the face of vaccination, but the standards of medical tests in other nations. And as for that “attestation” form I was supposed to sign? I did dutifully fill it out, but no one ever asked for it, as others said. Clearly it’s not being enforced, regularly. If that is the case, either enforce this or stop it. And since when does the CDC get to tell the airlines what their job is anyway? I mean, I guess they CAN, but I think they are already struggling to get their regular job done. Come on!

  37. The other questionable mandate is for 2-year-olds to wear a mask to fly into the United States or when flying domestically. this policy is keeping families from reuniting and no longer make sense if it ever did.

  38. Seriously. It’s like you never heard of the India variant and it’s further mutation both of who
    I have can affect children. Speaking of children this daily rant of yours makes you sound like one. Lol

  39. I cringe when I hear “front line worker.” Justin, I empathize and sympathize as a fellow healthcare provider. We have all been hit every year during flu/ ick season, too. The amount of people we have treated in respiratory distress is….. the issue with covid is that we were told that we couldn’t traditionally treat our patients. My issue is and has always been with testing. I won’t ho into personal detail, but it’s bs. I 100% believe in vaccination, not being gross and starting home if you’re sick/ believe you’ve been exposed; however, I travel alot during the traditional flu season. I do so while vaccinated, ocd sanitary and with tamiflu. If I am traveling to an island, I also travel with my own little short term pharmacy of certain items that I may need. I have carried surgical masks in the past, but never felt the need to wear them. Yes I’ve traveled during covid. Yes I’ve treated patients with covid…. many. I think that covid was a great way to divide people. I swear, if I see any of y’all out wearing gloves ……

  40. @VaccinesWork – delaying the second dose appears to make them more effective, in any case the total protection in the UK expanded much faster by prioritizing first doses for more people. However AstraZeneca doesn’t have the same level of effectiveness as the mRNA vaccines and that’s especially true against some of the variants.

  41. Why don’t people that believe in cooties just stay locked in their basements until the cooties pandemic is over. Everyone else can live their lives in the meantime. Seems easy.

  42. It is all about control. Nothing done with H1N1 or SARS. It is the flu. Also they keep importing illegals with Covid but still make us do the dance.

  43. @Steve – Here’s what I’ve never understood from folks who repeat “it’s all about control”

    – why do they care about controlling *you*?
    – what do people want to control you to do? and why do they want it?

  44. I returned from Asia to the US about 2 months ago. I had to provide a PCR test three days before departure, costing close to $500 in a private hospital. I had to wait in a busy ER waiting room during their Covid surge. I am at high risk. If I got a (false) positive, I would be involuntarily placed in a Covid ward for 14 days (with truly infected people). This is the situation MY government put me in, in order to come home TO MY COUNTRY.

    A negative test result like this means:
    – you weren’t infected at the time of the test.
    – you were infected but had a low viral load at the time.
    You could still be exposed and get infected during the next three days. And still be infectious on the flight. Or after your return. Really stupid idea.

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