White House meets with airline CEOs on COVID-19 travel issues

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The chief executives of major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, met virtually with the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator on Friday amid airline concerns that new restrictions could be imposed on domestic air travel.

“We had a very positive, constructive conversation focused on our shared commitment to science-based policies as we work together to end the pandemic, restore air travel and lead our nation toward recovery,” Nick Calio, chief executive of the Airlines for America industry group, said in a statement.

The White House, which declined to comment on the airline meeting, has a separate interagency meeting scheduled for later on Friday to discuss coronavirus issues and is not expected to endorse requiring negative COVID-19 tests before flights at this point, said people briefed on the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The airline CEO meeting with coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients and other administration officials involved in COVID-19 issues came after airlines, aviation unions and other industry groups strongly objected to the possibility of requiring COVID-19 testing before boarding domestic flights.

Reuters reported on Thursday that it did not appear the administration would move forward with requiring domestic testing at this point, but stressed officials could revisit the idea if conditions changed.

One idea that has been under serious consideration within the Biden administration is for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue recommendations advising against travel to specific areas of the United States with high COVID-19 caseloads, but the travel recommendations would not be binding, officials said.

The CDC said last month said the Biden administration was actively looking at expanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to U.S. domestic flights. The CDC on Jan. 26 began requiring negative COVID-19 tests or evidence of recovery from the disease from nearly all U.S.-bound international passengers age 2 and older.

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