Airport Screeners May Check For Fever Under Plan Being Discussed

(Bloomberg) --

An airline trade group is in discussions with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration about using airport security screeners to perform temperature checks on passengers before they board aircraft.

Ensuring that people with fevers aren’t allowed to fly is seen as a possible safety layer that could reduce the risks of spreading the virus causing Covid-19 as well as boosting the confidence of customers. Airlines are losing billions of dollars as more than 90% of their passengers have stopped flying.

“I think it’s fair to say that the Airlines for America trade association is leading the effort to advocate for some kind of health screening at the security checkpoint,” Southwest Airlines Co. Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said on an earnings call Tuesday.

“The screening is there,” Kelly said. “So it seems very natural to be done at that point.”

The talks between the TSA and airlines are still preliminary and it remains to be seen whether such a plan would be feasible and would actually make a difference in reducing infections, two people familiar with the discussions said. They asked not to be identified because the talks are sensitive and ongoing.

Talk about temperature checks or other health-screening measures at airports -- measures that have been taken in some Asian countries -- comes as the large airlines in recent days all adopted policies requiring that passengers wear face masks during flights.

In spite of the recent actions, unions representing airline workers and TSA agents are seeking more protections.

TSA said in a statement it has been discussing health-related issues with its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“At this time, no decision has been made regarding specific health screening measures at airports,” TSA said in the statement.

Airlines for America, which represents the large airlines that sell the vast majority of tickets in the U.S., said in a statement that screening remains the responsibility of the government.

“This continues to be a rapidly evolving situation and U.S. carriers remain in close contact with multiple federal agencies, the administration, Congress, and public health experts as we prepare for a relaunch of our industry,” the group said.

Airline passenger levels have fallen to unprecedented lows as much of the nation is under stay-at-home directives and the U.S. death toll from Covid-19 surpassed 64,000.

On Thursday, 154,695 passengers went through TSA screening portals in the U.S., the most since March 29. But the levels remain just a fraction of last year. Thursday’s total, for example, was 6% of the 2.5 million people who flew on the equivalent day in 2019.

Implementing a requirement for temperature screening or other such measures would involve several controversial issues, say people familiar it. There are no clear rules for whether people prohibited from boarding a plane because of a fever would be able to get reimbursed for their tickets, for example.

Also, with protests erupting in states against lockdowns and other anti-virus protections, would the government endorse the mandatory screening?

Health checks also wouldn’t be foolproof because people with the virus can be contagious without showing symptoms.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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