By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top aviation union leader warned on Thursday that mandatory COVID-19 testing requirements for travelers boarding U.S. domestic flights could devastate the airline industry and potentially lead to bankruptcies among airlines.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA representing workers at 17 airlines, asked at a U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing why airlines and not other transit modes were being singled out.
“Isolating the airline industry and not doing the same thing for mass transit or doing this at grocery stores or restaurants doesn’t make any sense,” she told the transportation and infrastructure committee.
U.S. government-required testing before domestic flights could lead to “airline bankruptcies. That is how devastating it could be,” she said.
Representative Peter DeFazio, the Democrat who chairs the committee, said such testing would require at least a 50% increase in current daily COVID-19 testing.
“I question whether this would be effective,” DeFazio said. He also asked if a testing mandate would need to be extended to other travel modes like buses, trains and interstate trucking and personal vehicle travel.
The federal government has been mulling additional measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus. A senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said last week that officials were “actively looking” at mandatory testing.
Last week, the United States implemented mandatory COVID-19 testing for nearly all arriving international passengers and added South Africa to its ban on entry of non-U.S. citizens arriving from most of Europe and Brazil.
Senior U.S. airline executives have said requiring testing for domestic flights could devastate the already depressed demand for air travel, and have been calling lawmakers and senior Biden administration officials to raise concerns.
Representative Rodney Davis, a Republican, said at the hearing such testing could “punish this industry and stop it at its most critical time.”
Aviation unions last week called for $15 billion in additional payroll support for airlines. Davis said he supported that idea.
Airline assistance is not part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief proposed by President Joe Biden that is currently under consideration in Congress.
Asked if Biden supports airline assistance, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday “the priorities of the president are already in the bill” but added it could change as Congress debates it.