The White House is holding a meeting with major airline executives on Friday amid industry uproar over the possibility of testing domestic travelers for coronavirus, multiple sources tell CNN.
The virtual meeting is among the first the new administration has held with airlines, financially crippled by the pandemic and wary of new travel restrictions that could wreak further havoc.
Confusion over potential restrictions has shifted into high gear in recent days, as rumors spread about measures under consideration for domestic travel – as well as how they might affect particular states whose economies depend on travel and tourism.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg exacerbated the alarm this week when he said in an interview that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was considering implementing a domestic travel testing requirement.
The aviation industry was caught off guard and sent spinning, according to two sources familiar with the industry’s reaction. While the airlines and various groups are usually briefed on major policy rollouts, they were blindsided by the potential new restrictions they insist will eviscerate what little demand for travel remains during the pandemic.
Despite the public backlash, one administration official familiar with the discussions told CNN that requiring Covid-19 testing before travel, as well as issuing travel advisories for certain US destinations – are still some of the options under consideration, which could make for a contentious meeting Friday.
Travel industry groups have already warned the Biden administration that a new testing requirement would be “discriminatory and unwarranted.” In a document outlining their concerns to the administration and lawmakers, and shared with CNN by Airlines for America, a coalition of industry groups argued that such a requirement is “not scalable, feasible or effective.”
Behind closed doors, some industry leaders have made direct appeals to the administration, one source tells CNN. But airlines are still in the dark, with no official word on where the plan stands. Last month, the CDC began requiring that international travelers show proof of a negative coronavirus test to their airline before boarding a flight bound for the United States.
“To be clear, there have been no decisions made around additional public health measures for domestic travel safety,” a White House spokesperson told CNN. “The administration is continuing to discuss recommendations across the travel space, but no specific decisions are under consideration.”
One source told CNN that White House officials are planning hold a separate, internal meeting on new travel protocols, but the Biden administration is signaling that an outright ban on air travel is not on the table.
White House officials have underscored to CNN that any mandate would come from the CDC.
In a statement, the CDC said no decisions have been made regarding travel, and that the agency continues to work across government on recommendations. “As part of our close monitoring of the pandemic and in particular the emerging variants, we will continue to review public health options for containing and mitigating spread of the virus,” the statement said.
But with no clear message, many officials are expecting the worst. Officials in Florida raised alarms Thursday after a report that the administration could be targeting certain states with high coronavirus case counts. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio wrote a letter to President Joe Biden saying “travel restrictions” in Florida would be “reckless and economically harmful.”
“Instituting a travel ban, or any restriction of movement between the states, would be an outrageous, authoritarian move that has no basis in law or science,” Rubio wrote.