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UPDATE 1-White House COVID-19 official to meet with airline CEOs Friday - sources

David Shepardson
·2 min read

(Recasts with new meeting planned for Friday)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The chief executives of majorU.S. airlines are scheduled to meet virtually on Friday with theWhite House's COVID-19 response coordinator to discuss a numberof travel-related issues, three people briefed on the mattertold Reuters on Wednesday.

The meeting with coronavirus response coordinator JeffZients and other administration officials involved in COVID-19issues comes as airlines, aviation unions and other industrygroups have strongly objected to the possibility of requiringpredeparture COVID-19 testing before domestic flights.

The White House declined to comment, and major airlinesdeclined or did not respond to requests for comment. The threepeople spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting hasnot been made public.

Southwest Airlines Co Chief Executive Gary Kelly andthe leaders of the airline's unions urged President Joe Biden ina letter not to mandate COVID-19 testing, saying it would put"jobs at risk."

"Such a mandate would be counterproductive, costly, and haveserious unintended consequences," said the letter, which wasdated Tuesday but released on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the Allied Pilots Association, representingthe American Airlines' 15,000 pilots, said "mandatorypre-flight testing would be unwarranted, logisticallyimpractical, and wasteful, and it would seriously threaten thestability of our industry."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lastmonth said the Biden administration was "actively looking" atexpanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to U.S. domestic flights.The CDC on Jan. 26 began requiring negative COVID-19 tests orevidence of recovery from the disease from nearly all U.S.-boundinternational passengers age 2 and older.

The federal government has been mulling additional measuresto fight the spread of the coronavirus, but officials said thereis no formal proposal on testing currently being circulatedwithin the administration.

On Friday, two senior Boeing Co executives warned theWhite House that requiring COVID-19 tests before U.S. flightscould pose significant economic harm.

CDC officials have repeatedly urged Americans not to travelunless necessary. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Mondaythat additional screening at places where people gather likeairports could help detect more asymptomatic cases.

Last week, Sara Nelson, a top aviation union leader, saidthat new domestic testing requirements could devastate theairline industry.

U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, chair of the House ofRepresentatives' Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,raised significant concerns about domestic testing requirementsin a meeting with Biden last Friday.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Reuters lastweek that decisions about domestic testing will be "guided byfacts and by science."(Reporting by David Shepardson; additional reporting by TracyRucinskiEditing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)