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Proof of negative coronavirus test required to enter US by air

Requirement applies to GA and commercial air passengers

Editor's note: This article was updated January 20 and January 26 with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for situations in which a person who has COVID-19 must be transported by air, and contact information for the CDC and the U.S. Department of State.

Effective January 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be requiring all passengers arriving in the United States from a foreign country flying by general aviation and commercial airlines “to get tested no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to provide proof of the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19.”

Starting January 26, airline and general aviation passengers travleing to the United States from a foreign country will be required to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test. Photo by Mike Fizer.

“This order applies to all flights, including private flights and general aviation aircraft (charter flights),” the CDC explained in its frequently asked questions resource that accompanies the order. “Passengers traveling by air into the US are required to have proof of testing regardless of flight type.” This includes GA pilots as well as family and friends on board.

AOPA has requested that the FAA issue a notice to airmen “to help ensure awareness in the cockpits,” said Murray Huling, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs.

According to the order announced January 12, passengers will be required to present proof of a negative “viral test (NAAT or antigen)” and fill out a declaration form before boarding the aircraft—even those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. Passengers can present a paper copy or an electronic copy of the negative test result. This requirement applies to passengers age 2 and older.

The testing mandate does not apply to crewmembers on duty, but they must “follow industry standard protocols for the prevention of COVID-19 as set forth in relevant Safety Alerts for Operators (SAFOs) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration,” the CDC said. In addition, airlines and GA aircraft operators (which can be the pilot in command if it’s not a commercial, corporate, charter, or airline operation) will need to keep passenger declaration forms for two years; the test results do not need to be retained. Failure to comply with the requirements of the order can result in legal penalties.

Passengers must take the test within three days of the flight to the United States, or in the case of multiple connecting flights, no more than three days before the first flight as long as all of the connecting flights “were booked as a single passenger record with a final destination in the US and each connection (layover) is no longer than 24 hours long. If your connecting flight to the US was booked separately or a connection in your itinerary lasts longer than 24 hours, you will need to get tested within the 3 days before your flight that arrives in the US.” The requirement also applies to passengers who are traveling to another country but have a connection in the United States.

Countries that require a viral antigen test upon entry have testing sites located at airports. In those cases, passengers could get tested at the airport before returning to the United States. AOPA members who will be traveling from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and the Bahamas can call CST Flight Services (786-206-6147; select option 1 or option 3) to get information about testing sites and fees. CST Flight Services Director Rick Gardner is AOPA’s representative for the Bahamas, Mexico, and Central America.

For passengers who have tested positive for the coronavirus within three months of the flight, have recovered, and have completed the requirements to end isolation, the CDC requires documentation of the positive viral test result and a letter from their health care provider or other health official that clears them for travel. Both documents are needed together to qualify as what the CDC refers to as “documentation of recovery.”

Once in the United States, the CDC requests that passengers get tested after three to five days and self-quarantine for seven days. Those who opt not to get tested should isolate for 10 days.

The order comes as new variants of the novel coronavirus are spreading around the globe. New variants have been reported in the United Kingdom and the Republic of South Africa, as well as in Florida, Colorado, and California. The United Kingdom has instituted a national lockdown that prohibits GA leisure flying.

The CDC said that the order is intended to preserve life; prevent the “further introduction, transmission, and spread of the virus”; protect the health and safety of “crew members, passengers, airport personnel, and communities”; and preserve “hospital, healthcare, and emergency response resources within the United States.”

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

The former senior director of digital media, Alyssa J. Cobb was on the AOPA staff from 2004 until 2023. She is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: COVID19, Advocacy, International Travel

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