Travel

Delta CEO calls mandating negative COVID-19 tests for domestic air travelers ‘a horrible idea’

He also discussed Delta's decision to block middle seats through April 30.

In this Oct. 29, 2019 file photo, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian talks at the new Terminal C at LaGuardia Airport in New York.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian is against the idea of government mandated negative COVID-19 tests for domestic travelers, he told CNN on Tuesday.

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“I think it’d be a horrible idea, for a lot of reasons,” Bastian told CNN’s Poppy Harlow about the rule under consideration by the Biden administration, which has been rejected by other travel industry executives.

Bastian called air travel the safest form of transportation and said incidents of virus spread aboard planes is “absolutely minimal.” Mandatory testing for international flights to the U.S. began last month.

“It will not keep domestic flyers safer,” Bastian told Harlow. “If anything, it’s going to keep people away from what they need to do, in terms of starting to get back out, not just for essential travel, but people need to start reclaiming their lives. And taking testing resources away from those truly in need, I think, would be a terrible decision.”

Bastian said the U.S. air industry is carrying over a million people a day on average and growing, and requiring mandated COVID-19 tests for domestic travelers would take about 10 percent of the testing resources the country needs for sick people.

“It’s hard to get tests,” he said. “There’s days of delay still. I think it’d be a logistical nightmare. It would set not just the transportation and travel industry back, but the whole hospitality sector, the hotels, it would set us back probably another year in the recovery.”

Delta launched a vaccination center at its hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta this week for qualified Georgia-based Delta employees age 65 and older, but Bastian told Harlow it’s “far too early” to discuss mandating vaccines for employees, an issue recently raised by United Airlines.

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“Most of our employees can’t even get the vaccines, we don’t have the supplies yet,” he said. “We’re going to strongly encourage vaccinations. I know our people understand how important it is to restore confidence back in travel and getting vaccinated is one of those steps that we’ll take. I think that’s a decision for later on as we go through the course of the vaccination efforts.”

Delta is prioritizing the safety of its passengers by continuing to block middle seats through April 30, the only U.S. carrier to do so, the airline announced Monday.

“We know the middle seat is one of the things that people really value when they make the decision, in the face of a pandemic, to travel on Delta,” Bastian told Harlow. “It’s expensive, there’s no question about it. But, interestingly, in the most recent fourth quarter we reported a couple weeks ago, Delta actually had more revenue on average than any of our competitors averaged in the industry — despite the fact we had 20 percent fewer seats available for sale. So people are prioritizing, as they should, their health and safety and comfort as they travel, and we’re getting a meaningful premium for travel on Delta.”

Harlow asked Bastian if Delta will furlough employees, noting that other U.S. airlines have sent furlough warnings to staff.

“We haven’t done any furloughs throughout the entire pandemic,” Bastian said. “Our team has done a great job of saving jobs by volunteering for time off and we had a large retirement offer we made last year, and we got about 20 percent of our people who did decide to retire. So our team is doing a great job. We are not in danger of any furloughs at Delta.”

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Watch the entire CNN interview with Ed Bastian.

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