Effective Jan. 26, anyone flying into the United States from another country will need to show proof they have tested negative for the coronavirus, following a new requirement set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday. “With the U.S. already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public,” the CDC announcement said.

The move has the U.S. joining many other countries and even some states such as Alaska and Hawaii that require visitors be tested for the virus.

The ruling also means that citizens overseas may suddenly want to return home by Jan. 25, especially if the testing infrastructure at their destination would pose challenges to getting a timely result.

Delta Air Lines acted quickly to waive any fare difference on international flights to the U.S. for tickets purchased on or before Jan. 12, the day the CDC made the announcement, for travel through Feb. 9. This essentially allows travelers to return from overseas without financial penalty before the new testing requirement takes hold. Delta announced the move the same day the CDC made its announcement. The airline already waives change fees, which it has been doing since the pandemic upset the travel world.

The CDC noted the growing emergence around the world of variants of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, and evidence that the new variants are more easily spread.

Since late December, the federal agency had already required a negative coronavirus test for people, including U.S. citizens, flying to the U.S. from the United Kingdom, the first known place that a new, more transmissible strain of the virus was circulating.

Airline passengers must get a viral test within three days before they are scheduled to fly to the U.S. and provide their airline with proof of their negative test result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past three months. Passengers who fail to provide the appropriate documentation will be denied boarding.

To further protect the American public and slow the spread of the disease, the CDC is recommending fliers get tested again 3-5 days after returning and stay home for 7 days post-travel.

Many airlines, including American and Delta, offer COVID-19 testing for passengers on some flights.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield was quoted as saying in the announcement, “but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

Kerri Westenberg


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