Requiring Covid-19 tests for US domestic air passengers would be unnecessary, complex and impractical – or as one Southwest Airlines executive puts it, “a real goat rodeo”.

That phrase means a situation that is exceedingly chaotic and unmanageable, even hopelessly messy.

The US government does not currently require negative Covid-19 tests for passengers travelling domestically, though it does require tests for passengers flying to the USA from abroad.

However, in recent days a director at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said his agency was “actively looking at” a domestic-travel testing requirement.

“That could be a real goat rodeo, as we say here in Texas,” Southwest president Tom Nealon says on 28 January during the airline’s 2020 earnings call.

Chicago O'Hare airport 082520. Pilar Wolfsteller-2

Source: Pilar Wolfsteller/FlightGlobal

A sparely-occupied concourse Chicago O’Hare International airport on 25 August 2020, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a really challenging thing for customers to navigate… if it’s not done consistently across the country,” Nealon adds. “Where our emphasis needs to be is on… getting the country vaccinated, and I would hate for us to take our eye off that ball”.

Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly calls Covid-19 tests for domestic travel “wholly impractical”.

“I think it would be a mistake,” Kelly adds.

JetBlue Airways chief financial officer Joanna Geraghty also addressed the concern on 28 January.

“On the domestic front, it’s hard to see something like that… working on that scale,” she says during JetBlue’s earnings call. “People need to travel. They will figure out a way to get there. Putting this burden on air travel, we think is just far too cumbersome.”

Airlines warn that checking passengers’ test results would be logistically challenging. They also reiterate the industry’s position, supported by several studies, that Covid-19 transmission is unlikely on aircraft.

Requiring domestic-flight testing would be “difficult”, and airlines would be “testing Americans on airplanes that we know are safe”, says American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker, also on 28 January.

JetBlue’s Geraghty adds that demand for testing would surge overnight if domestic passengers need also be tested.

The result would be “a ton of pressure on an already fragile system,” she says. “We don’t believe [a] domestic testing regime is feasible given the existing framework.”

Airline lobby group Airlines for America declines to comment specifically about new domestic-travel restrictions.

But, the group says it supports a “data-driven approach” and remains in close communication with the administration of President Joe Biden.

The World Health Organization “has not endorsed quarantines or travel restrictions, as evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert limited resources from other critical priorities”, A4A adds.