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Airline lobbyists ask White House to drop COVID-19 testing requirement

ORLANDO, Fla. — Lobbyists for the airline industry have asked the Biden administration to stop requiring negative COVID-19 tests on all U.S.-bound flights, saying the requirement is outdated and ineffective.

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In a letter published by Airlines for America, the coalition of groups said international passengers were being scared away from flying out of fears they’ll be stuck far from home.

“People simply are unwilling to take the chance that they will be unable to return to the U.S. at the end of their business trip or vacation,” the letter said. “As a result, international travel in 2021 was 75 percent below 2019 levels.”

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If the rules were to relax, the United States would follow the U.K., which ditched its international testing requirement last month after scientists there concluded it wasn’t helping to lower infection rates. The change wouldn’t affect outbound flights to countries that still have testing requirements.

Orlando’s international flight statistics show a continued lag since the start of the pandemic. In 2019, more than 3.5 million passengers traveled to or from the U.S. through Orlando International Airport and Sanford International Airport. Fewer than 900,000 passengers made the journey in 2021.

Meanwhile, domestic travel numbers have almost returned to normal. Orange County’s Tourism Development Tax pulled in a near-record number of dollars in December, thanks to a strong holiday season, Comptroller Phil Diamond said.

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“Hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come,” he added.

Boosting international flights, along with a proposed tax break by lobbyists for business travel to conventions and trade shows, would potentially help Central Florida rake in new record levels of income.

READ: Home COVID testing leading to higher positivity rates in Seminole County, data shows

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