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Anyone flying into Philly from another country must now prove they don’t have COVID-19 before even being allowed to board the plane.

Philadelphia International Airport is the second largest international hub for American Airlines, which is handling the proof-of-testing process, according to PHL spokesperson Florence Brown.

“We’re committed to protecting the health and safety of our customers and team members,” the airline said in a statement, confirming its participation in the program, set to begin on Jan. 26. Because of the short notice, American is waiving fare differences for any flights scheduled through Feb. 12.

The new rules come after the U.S. saw international travel skyrocket 400% since June, according to CDC Global Migration and Quarantine Director Marty Cetron.

They’re an extension of regulations put in place for inbound U.K. travelers after the more contagious strain of the coronavirus was diagnosed there. Cetron told Billy  Penn. They require anyone age 2 or older to either:

  • provide documentation for a negative coronavirus test taken no more than three days before the flight, or
  • provide proof of recovery from COVID and a letter clearing travel from a medical doctor or public health official

Airline staff must then verify the proof of negative testing or medical clearance.

Have a connecting flight? Travelers can rely on their original COVID test as long as: the test was taken no more than 3 days before it departed; the connecting flights were booked together; and each layover is 24 hours or shorter.

The order, issued a month after a man with COVID died on a flight from Orlando to Los Angeles, applies to travelers with connections in the U.S., even if the final destination is elsewhere. It also applies to travel from nearby Mexico and Caribbean destinations.

There are some exceptions, including for members of the military, for babies, and for airline crew or aircraft operators — if the staff is already following outlined CDC guidance.

Transatlantic international travel through PHL Airport resumed in September after a five month restriction. In December, the airport launched a Jefferson Health COVID-19 testing site for outgoing and incoming travelers. Administered by Rapid Reliable Testing, which also runs community sites around Philly, it offers $130 PCR tests, which return results in about two days, and $70 rapid antigen tests, which usually give results within the hour.

The CDC’s new rule differs from a November order issued by Pennsylvania Department of Health that required anyone traveling into the commonwealth to have tested negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of their flight, or to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. In that case, airport staff wasn’t verifying passenger test results.

“This is an all of society approach to battle a pandemic threat like this virus poses,” said Cetron, of the CDC. “But together, and with commitment and resolve, we can get there.”

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Layla A. Jones

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...