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Omicron variant prompts new international travel requirements

Passenger information mandate in effect, testing requirement updated

Editor's note: This story was updated December 3 to include new information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on December 2 ordered all passengers and air crew entering the United States to have a negative COVID-19 test within one calendar day of departure, or documentation that they have recovered from COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status.

The U.S. government, as of November 30, requires airlines and aircraft operators to transmit detailed contact information for passengers and crew arriving from international destinations if they have been present in South Africa or seven other countries on the continent where the omicron variant of the coronavirus was recently discovered. More stringent testing requirements take effect December 6. Photo by Mike Fizer.

The CDC posted additional guidance for aircraft operators, answering many of the questions raised when AOPA learned that the amended testing order was coming prior to its December 2 publication.

The CDC also now requires aircraft operators to provide contact information collected from passengers and crew who were present in certain African countries within the preceding 14 days, amplifying a previous directive to collect and retain that information to be provided on request. The amended COVID-19 testing order is the latest in a series of new requirements imposed on airlines and other aircraft operators in the interest of public health. The CDC in November issued an order requiring the collection and retention by aircraft operators of contact information where passengers and crew arriving from other countries can be reached while in the United States.

The omicron variant of the coronavirus has raised concern around the world since it was identified recently in South Africa, which is among eight African nations covered by a directive that took effect November 30: Operators of any aircraft arriving in the United States carrying passengers and crew who were present within eight listed countries within the preceding 14 days must transmit to the CDC, within 24 hours of arrival, the contact information for anyone aboard who was recently present in the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the Republic of South Africa, or the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The new order to transmit the collected contact information of passengers and crew who have been present in those countries applies to all aircraft operators, as does the broader directive, issued previously, to collect this information from all passengers traveling to the United States from any foreign country, and retain it for 30 days in case federal officials request it. This directive remains in effect. The updated directive that took effect November 30 requires the transmission to the CDC of the contact information of passengers and crew who were present in the specified African countries, including those who transited any of the eight countries, at any point within 14 days of departure to the United States.

The CDC has established procedures and protocols to securely transmit the required passenger contact information, and offers detailed technical guidance online.

“CDC will provide the contact information of these passengers to jurisdictional state and local public health partners for public health follow-up. This follow-up may include recommendations for potential post-arrival viral testing and quarantine and isolation,” the agency said in a letter to air carriers detailing the contact information collection requirement.

The amended testing order that takes effect December 6 allows for a range of COVID-19 tests, including various nucleic acid amplification or antigen tests. There are some exemptions allowed for required aircraft crewmembers who are “under an airline's or aircraft operator’s occupational health and safety program,” the CDC noted in its amplified guidance.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: International Travel

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