Airlines want to drop COVID-19 travel precautions. Is now the right time?

Author: MEGAN CERULLO / CBS Moneywatch
FILE – In this May 14, 2020 file photo, several dozen mothballed Delta Air Lines jets are parked on a closed runway at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Mo. Delta Air Lines will require new employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting Monday, May 17, 2021. The airline won’t impose the same requirement on current employees, more than 60% of whom are vaccinated, a Delta spokesman said Friday. Delta has about 74,000 employees. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

After one of the most turbulent periods in air travel history — loaded with new rules and regulations and plenty of unruly and disruptive passengers — airlines want to jettison COVID-era safety precautions for flights.

The CEOs of the nation’s leading airlines this week sent a letter to the White House urging the Biden administration to rescind pre-departure testing and vaccination requirements for international travelers and drop the federal mask mandate on flights, arguing that the measures are no longer necessary as coronavirus infections drop sharply across the U.S.

The precautions “are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment,” they said in the letter.

Epidemiologists aren’t so sure, saying it might be too soon to eliminate COVID-19 rules in the air. Allowing passengers to fly unmasked could also deter older and immunocompromised customers from traveling while also hurting the airline business.

When can we relax?

“It is reasonable to be having the conversation of when we should be relaxing these restrictions,” David Dowdy, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CBS MoneyWatch. “When the [Biden] administration should respond by lifting those restrictions is a different matter. It may be a month or so too early to be making those decisions.”

Before COVID-19 protocols are lifted on planes, a threshold needs to be set for dropping precautions — and another for reinstituting mandates if virus cases start rising again.

“We need to determine ‘when do we relax precautions’ and ‘when do we reinstate them’ if we see cases go up again. Otherwise, you could argue we would keep these in place until there is no COVID left on earth,” Dowdy said.

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