The US lifted pre-departure COVID-19 testing mandates for international arrivals from June 12, ending a pandemic-era policy that many analysts have blamed for slowing the return of international travel.
The pre-departure testing mandate initially entered effect in January 2021, and was widely viewed as a way to enable safe international travel while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in flight. But the policy became increasingly unpopular among airlines and the US travel industry, both of which have lobbied for months to repeal it.
Airlines for America (A4A) CEO Nicholas Calio welcomed the decision to eliminate the testing requirement, which he said will “encourage and restore travel to the United States, benefiting communities across the country that rely heavily on travel and tourism to support their local economies.”
The US Travel Association also lauded the move to end the policy, which it projected will add 5.4 million visitors to the US and $9 billion in air travel spending through the rest of 2022. The group said a recent survey it commissioned among international travelers found that more than half identified the pre-departure testing as a “major deterrent” to visiting the US.
Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth wrote in a research note that the termination of pre-departure testing will serve as an “important catalyst for international travel” to recover. She added that testing requirements that remain in other countries will remain an obstacle to the full recovery of air traffic, although she noted that large markets including Canada, France, Ireland and the UK have already dropped their testing mandates.
Jefferies analyst Sheila Kahyaoglu wrote in a report that United Airlines will be the most positively affected US carrier because it retired the fewest widebodies throughout the pandemic and can immediately begin to flex up capacity across the Atlantic. Next to United, Delta Air Lines will also benefit from its overweight exposure to the Atlantic relative to peers, while American Airlines has the least ability to ramp up capacity because of continued Boeing 787 delivery delays.
United CEO Scott Kirby praised the administration’s move in a statement, and pointed out that United will be the largest carrier flying across the Atlantic this summer, with 25% more seats than it operated pre-pandemic. The carrier said it will resume 30 transatlantic flights this summer, giving it a larger transatlantic presence than all other US carriers combined.