Why Requiring Covid Testing For Domestic Travel Could Cost More Lives Than It Saves

For the past few weeks the Biden administration has considered requiring a negative Covid test in order to take a domestic flight.

Covid-19 is already spreading widely in the community, although the absolute peak of infections in the U.S. has appeared to have passed. Requiring testing won’t stop Covid-19 from taking hold in the community. It won’t stop the B.1.1.7 U.K. variant, either, which appears already on its way towards becoming dominant. Domestic travel restrictions could help if the country were in a position to contain, rather than just mitigate, the virus. However placing restrictions on air travel alone would be insufficient to accomplish this.

However air travel restrictions may actually compromise public health, rather than contributing to it or even being neutral.

Making travel more costly doesn’t necessarily mean Less travel it often just means a different mode of transportation. So it doesn’t cut down on spread. Instead it shifts people to travel in ways that are less safe. Driving isn’t as safe as flying (and neither is Amtrak). Making air travel less convenient and more costly means more driving, and more people the road means more car accidents. Pushing people to make more dangerous choices is often referred to as ‘statistical murder.’

On a majority of days a majority of flights between Houston and Dallas are running $67 each way. That’s an easy drive as well, but a route that’s been bread-and-butter for Southwest Airlines since its founding (and is operated by American and United as well, into other airports). A testing requirement could triple the price of a trip like this.

The increased hassle of TSA screening has, in fact, meant more people driving on shorter trips, resulting in 500 additional auto accidents a year. The time, hassle and cost of Covid testing is much greater.

The question about whether to impose a Covid testing requirement shouldn’t just consider whether it can stop the spread of the virus, and how it compares to other potential public health interventions. It has to consider potential unintended consequences as well.

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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  1. The government could easily pay for the testing to mitigate that valid concern. I constantly refer people to the Pixel by Labcorp at home test which can either be billed to your insruance or the Cares Act. But, $0 for the consumer!

    Also I wouldn’t be opposed to mandatory testing for ALL interstate travel, including by automobile. There is no reason to limit the testing requirement to air travel.

    We need much stricter oversite, and that could have prevented a lot of the spread. We didn’t do a milliteristic lock down like some other nations. Our lock down was about as watered down as it could get, even coming from a democratic state like Massachusetts.

    I think everybody should have use of a smartphone or monitoring type bracelet for monitoring spread and contact tracing. I know people will scream to the hills about privacy, but I don’t see a compelling reason not to do this. At a very minimum, 95% ior more of businesses should be required to have patrons and employees check-in via some kind of electronic system.
    Its crazy to me, for instance, that United’s contact tracing is voluntary.

    What are the public health benefits of making things like this voluntary?

  2. Boston: so you would be happy becoming a communist country, like China?
    Everything you suggested happens there. The Chicoms have total control over their citizens movement.

  3. Um no, if people can’t wear masks and isolate themselves if possibly exposed….I personally could care less if these jackasses die in car crashes. So be it, had enough of this BS from the right wing maniacs!

  4. Despite ample evidence that the virus was beginning to run its course a year after it appeared, the Biden administration is bound and determined to “do something” to show that they did something to manage covid.

    They can’t do anything more positive. Requiring domestic air travel covid testing will create more harm than good.

  5. You’re using the argument for why the government allows for children up to the age of 2 years old to fly as lap-children on flights. You may as well think of the Covid-18 testing requirement as akin to paying for and being subject to the TSA as a person considering to flying on a commercial carrier subject to TSA screening.

    Covid-19 testing requirement to fly is more akin to a tax to travel via air to sort of cover for the involved risk of more quickly spreading and/or getting this communicable virus (in whichever variant) before, during or after flying over a wider geographic area than is likely by a road trip.

  6. lol look at these right wing ingrates and their it’s just the flu, it’s already over, chicom rhetoric. Be real boys the only traveling you do is from your trailer to a maga rally

  7. It’s difficult (probably impossible!) to do a fair cost-benefit analysis here but perhaps this isn’t the real problem with this idea, anyway. Were this to be implemented, it would have a devastating impact on (what remains of) the airline industry. It might (?) be a different matter IF low cost or free tests were available AND results could reliably be turned around in hours…BUT neither of these conditions apply!

  8. This is so unrelevant… everybody woth any brains will just pay $2 on the internet, print out their “test” results and move on with life. Anybody that is scared of the cooties will be hiding in their closets still.

  9. Just wait until some government somewhere puts in place a requirement that conditions flying on providing an acceptable Covid-19 test result or acceptable proof or vaccination against Covid-19.

    When the US put in place a mandate that generally required passengers have passports for all international flights arriving and departing the US, where were the criticisms that such a requirement to fly internationally would lead to more surface transport accidents?

    Even well into 2001, I was able to fly in and out of the US on some international routes with just my regular old driver’s license and birth certificate. After the US Government stopped that passport-less international flying, some people substituted road trips for flight trips, but I don’t recall anyone here then making the argument that the US’s passport requirement was causing more deaths than it was preventing.

  10. Faux Kelly Loeffler,

    You’re an advocate for making fraudulent claims about clearing a testing requirement?

    With a legal attestation requirement applicable to testing to fly, engaging in the fraud suggested by you would put the “free-dumb” flying frauds at risk for prosecution and incarceration. Hiding from the law doesn’t work for everyone, just see what’s happening to those Lord Trump-worshipping insurrectionists who engaged in criminal activity on January 6th.

  11. Boston, while I disagree with Susie that China is a Communist country (it claims to be, but autocratic capitalism might be more accurate today), nor did they care how I wandered around there or in Cuba or the Soviet satellites, I do agree with her that it would take a dictatorship to do what you suggest. It’s also impossible. There are literally thousands of tiny roads between the states and cops and solders have better things to do than watch all of them. I doubt if there are enough of them anyway. Then there are people like me who can fly themselves in small aircraft, or take a canoe across the nearest wet state line. In any case, the traffic tie-ups to check everyone would stop all road freight in this country. Good luck when the groceries start emptying out.

  12. lol. You STILL don’t get it? They don’t care if you die in a traffic accident. They don’t care if you die of the seasonal flu. It’s perfectly fine to die of heart disease or pneumonia or falling off a cliff. That’s just part of life (death). We’re all gonna die of something and those are all completely acceptable deaths that we don’t need to destroy our entire economy and completely change our societal interaction over to try and reduce any of those specific mortality numbers. Covid is the ONLY unacceptable way of dying. So what if more people are dying in other ways, and many directly related to our government’s attempt to reduce covid deaths? Your great-grandpa just died? Pneumonia brought on by the seasonal flu? Sorry about that, but when you’re old, that happens. Oh, wait, the covid brought on the pneumonia? That’s outrageous! We can’t allow this to happen!…etc. The point is, we can all die of all the usual stuff, but NOT covid. That is completely unacceptable. (Insanity/political derangement defined.)

  13. I don’t really agree with the analysis. I want vaccination to be required for lots of things once the vaccines are readily available I want to resume my life, without having to deal with restrictions for the sake of those who are prolonging the misery by refusing to be vaccinated. I think a lot of them, rather than driving cross country, will simply decide to get vaccinated once it is clear they have to keep living the COVID life while the rest of us can move on. We will need an excellent electronic certification system, not the paper card I got.

  14. Seriously? The guy who pushed that study from back in 2007 didn’t even show how he even came up with those numbers. Not to mention that traffic fatalities are down across the US from 2019. You can’t just claim statistics from a study that doesn’t even appear to have been a legit study at all and what is even more annoying is that you are taking a study from 14 years ago and pre-pandemic. Really shouldn’t be trying to pass this off as a legitimate argument. Not to mention the lives that can be saved by catching people who have covid but symptom free.

  15. Never say never, but this will never be implemented because the elites — with the exception of a limited number of Karens — will never support it. It’s a dumbass idea for numerous reasons right now — especially since anyone whose knowledge extends beyond the MSM knows that lockdown strategies have so far been a complete failure in the USA. With no particular danger associated with flying, and the whole mainland now having experienced significant Covid, what would be the point? With cases plummeting, how much support for new extreme measures is there likely to be?

  16. BTW, Mayor Pete’s idea to suggest domestic airline testing is the quintessential example why it’s not great policy to select inexperienced politicians with no relevant experience for Cabinet positions. Anyone familiar with the airline industry knows the risk factors of taking people off airplanes and putting them in cars, the impact that a testing requirement would have on demand (Buttigieg actually believed it would increase demand!), and the impossible logistical hurtle of trying to test a million more Americans every day. The problem Democrats have is they don’t have a lot of leaders with real world experience to select for these business-related positions, much less leaders who have a record of achievement in the private sector..

  17. I America is so great, why it is not America but Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore and other democracies that have conquered what’s nothing more than yet another infectious disease?

    Time for the US to learn from the winners and use the same tactics, not fall even further behind.

    Also, why on Earth are US taxpayers helping the virus to be spread over and over again by subsidizing air travel? Airfares are ridiculously low, something made possible by the bailouts. That is absolutely insane!!

  18. Trump-worshipping Chopsticks,

    The country just came off a Trump Admin headed by the Trump schmuck with no real experience in dealing with complex issues of governance and whose ignorance and inexperience showed in how he left the country worse off than how he got it.

    The Biden Administration has a deep bench of experienced people lined up, even as Buttigieg is not one of them. By the way Buttigieg isn’t calling for Covid-19 testing to be mandated for domestic flights. He is indicating that he plans to respect CDC recommendations.

  19. What is this obsession of politicians with air travel?? It seems like bashing air travel has turned into an extremely popular pastime, an ultimate deflectionary exercise, to keep the attention away from what really matters.
    In reality, it is a scientific fact that air travel in and by itself contributes minimally to COVID-19 spread.

  20. That first comment by Boston made me cringe and throw up in my mouth. Heil Hitler, papers please. Not a good idea at all. Boston should leave the US as soon as possible.

  21. there was no peak “infection.” It was just PCR High cycle deception….conveniently ended right after inauguration or thereabouts.

    Youtube – Kary Mullis on Fauci

    Watch THE HIGHWIRE…..be informed. Don’t fall for pharma/CDC deception. CDC is a captured agency!

  22. @Amy – “I America is so great, why it is not America but Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Singapore and other democracies that have conquered what’s nothing more than yet another infectious disease?”

    3 of these countries are islands (and thus relatively easy to seal off), and the other one is rather small. Furthermore, all 4 have citizens that are FAR more accepting of government intrusion into their lives than many Americans are.

    “Time for the US to learn from the winners and use the same tactics, not fall even further behind.”

    The tactics used in these countries, as well as their extent, are not likely to be accepted by enough people to make them viable. They may not even be legal here. Even the measures that we have now are extremely controversial.

  23. You should really go take a high school prob and stats class before you write trash like this. Everyone blindly uses this statement that flying is soooo much safer than driving. That only appears so to people who do not understand probabilities as near everyone drives as a near daily part of their life. The vast majority of people fly only a couple of times a year or less. To say that driving is far more dangerous than flying is akin to stating that eating is more dangerous than flying because more people choke every year than are injured in air accidents.

  24. Ed asks “What is this obsession of politicians with air travel?? It seems like bashing air travel has turned into an extremely popular pastime, an ultimate deflectionary exercise, to keep the attention away from what really matters.
    In reality, it is a scientific fact that air travel in and by itself contributes minimally to COVID-19 spread.”

    He’s complaining about the politicians bashing air travel even as it’s mostly the same bunch of politicians who back massive airline bailouts.

    Trips taken using commercial air travel have been the major way this virus has spread around the world and around the country so quickly.

  25. Tim and Susie –You get it…GUWonder and you other libs…. DO NOT!!! You need to go hang in Cuba or CCP or?? to get a taste of what life could be with government take-over…(we hope not happening here but with the new Liberal-Progressive-semi-socialist adm we will see..)

  26. Hang in there Chopsticks, you are on the right side of what will be history. Even Gary Kelly. my former boss at SWA, agrees that mandatory testing for domestic flights is a bad idea. SWA does not throw darts at an answer board and come up with policy, they actually do the research.

  27. GUWonder. You’re taking your opinion and attempting to make it facts. No so. You ARE entitled to your own opinion, but you’re NOT entitled to your own facts.

  28. One Trippe,

    Sweet words coming from you as a worshipper of your Lord Trump and a believer and peddler or the big lie about the US Presidential Election results in November 2020.

    If you want people to believe that the SARS-COV-2 virus spread to the US and around the country entirely without the help of commercial airline travelers, it’s going to fly as well as your support for the fact-free claims that Trump defeated Biden in the November 2020 election.

  29. It is no surprise that leftist authoritarians like Boston cannot comprehend a voluntarist social system. It is also no surprise that leftist authoritarians like JohnB are happy to see those they perceive as their political opponents die horrible deaths. Leftist authoritarians like Amy don’t see that what was done in the countries she mentioned likely wouldn’t be legal in the US. She also probably doesn’t know that the Singapore People’s Action Party’s symbol is based on that of the British Union of Fascists.

    It doesn’t make sense to me why these people should care about other people not getting vaccinated or following whatever mandates they favor. Even if a vaccine works only to protect the vaccinated against the disease, as long as you are vaccinated, what do you have to worry about those who decline vaccination? If a vaccine also works to inhibit spread (as it likely does with SARS-CoV-2), then you are helping prevent infections and deaths by getting vaccinated whether someone else chooses to get vaccinated or not. Why is it that you feel you have the right to impose your choices on others? The key word in that last sentence is “feel,” all you mood affiliators.

  30. Oh, and I have been tested several times as part of pre-flight requirements. The checking of said test results is not all that thorough and I imagine there is adverse selection with the most likely fakers being more likely to be infected as well. Also, PCR testing 72 hours before a flight is a stupid idea if your goal is to prevent the spread of infections.

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