Many cruise lines and tour operators require proof of full vaccination in order to travel. Could this happen with air travel, too?
The spread of the Delta Covid-19 variant has changed plenty of vacation plans already and poses a concern for the world.
More countries and destinations have been classified by both the CDC and the State Department as having the highest risk category since the beginning of August than we’ve seen in months, with countries like Greece, Ireland, Turkey and the Bahamas receiving the "do not travel" warning.
With the first Covid-19 vaccine receiving full approval by the Food & Drug Administration, more vaccination mandates could be on the rise everywhere, from schools to workplaces and beyond.
A study done by The Vacationer posed the question of whether or not individuals should only be able to fly if they’ve been vaccinated first. About 67% of those surveyed said only vaccinated individuals should be able to fly or take public transportation. Of this number, 36% believe unvaccinated individuals should provide a negative Covid-19 test prior to flying, while another 30% believe they should be barred from air travel altogether.
The rates, however, of individuals contracting Covid-19 while on an airplane and wearing a mask is low, and air travel itself is not to blame for the spread of Covid-19 during the travel process.
Susie Chau, owner of Carpe Diem Travel, noted, “My clients haven't been worried enough about flying to make them change their travel plans yet. However, I've had some conversations with friends and social media followers who have expressed more concerns about being in crowded airports than being in the plane with proven air filtration systems.”
Masks and the airlines’ efforts to keep Covid-19 from spreading have been effective so far, but there has been a historic increase in violent confrontations on planes this year, many of which are due to non-compliance with the federal public transportation mask mandate. It is possible that a vaccination mandate might help decrease the likelihood of this happening, but the likelihood of masks being required on planes that carry fully vaccinated individuals is still high because of the Delta variant’s easy transmissibility.
Only one airline in the world requires Covid-19 testing prior to flying. Etihad Airways has been testing its passengers since August 2020 and has also begun using the IATA Travel Pass for several popular flight routes.
The biggest issue with a potential vaccination mandate would be the debate of whether air travel is a privilege or a right.
Ben Gritzewsky, Veteran Travel Advisor and Skeptic, said that “individual health issues are or should be private, and everyone ought to have the right to determine what is appropriate for themselves and whether to assume any risks. As long as vaccination is not mandated by law, it should not be a prerequisite for access to any public service or establishment. At the least, equivalent alternatives need to be provided for those who are not vaccinated.”
Air travel is different than both tour operators and cruise lines because it is regulated by the government as a method of public transportation, while cruise lines and tour operators are private companies. The government has the responsibility to both protect the populace and keep public transportation open to the public. Should the government see a reason to institute some type of requirement, the easiest option would be to require proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test result.
“As we've learned in the last year, travel is a privilege, not a right,” said Chau. “I personally would love it if there was a requirement of proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test prior to travel. Allowing only vaccinated travellers gets tricky, especially when it comes to children. I think giving the testing option is a good middle ground that would be less controversial and flexible.”
For now, airlines in the US aren’t thinking of requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test result any time soon, but the Delta variant, or an even worse variant later on could change the way we travel by plane.
At the end of the day, it’s an issue about how air travel can remain open while remaining safe. And right now, air travel is still pretty safe.