Conde Nast Traveler 5/12/2020
Given the outbreak of COVID-19, the airline boarding process is shifting. The latest gate-side change for many carriers: a temperature check to determine whether passengers are healthy enough to be allowed on the plane.
In recent days, airlines in North America, Asia, and Europe have announced mandatory temperature screenings for their fliers. The new policies are part of a larger push among air carriers to implement new health and safety policies as air travel begins a nascent reopening in some regions of the world that have bounced back from the pandemic.
So far only one U.S. airline, ultra-low-cost carrier Frontier, has said it plans to start screening passengers for fevers. Starting June 1, Frontier passengers and crew members will get a temperature check via touchless thermometer prior to boarding, the airline's new policy says. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will not be allowed on the plane.
The so-called Big Three U.S. airlines—American, Delta, and United—have not said whether they would check passengers' temperatures before allowing them onto planes. However, industry trade group Airlines for America is advocating for TSA officers to handle temperature checks as part of the security screening process instead. (The three U.S. legacy carriers, as well as Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska, and Hawaiian Airlines, are all members of the group.)
"As all screening processes for the traveling public are the responsibility of the U.S. government, having temperature checks performed by the TSA will ensure that procedures are standardized, providing consistency across airports so that travelers can plan appropriately," Airlines for America said recently in a release. For its part, the TSA has said it's still considering whether it will require its officers to take travelers' temperatures.
Elsewhere, top international airlines including Air France and Singapore Airlines are implementing temperature checks for travelers. Air France's new rules went into effect on May 11 and prevent any flier from boarding the plane if they register a temperature of 100.4 or higher after being screened by an infrared thermometer. Singapore passengers will also undergo a health assessment prior to boarding, which includes questions about any potential illness symptoms such as fever or cough, whether the passenger has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or pneumonia, and whether the passenger has been in close contact with any case of COVID-19 over the past 14 days. If the traveler answers yes to any of the questions, they won't be permitted to board, according to Singapore's policy, nor will passengers with a temperature of 99.5 degrees or higher.
Air Canada also has a temperature-check policy, which goes into effect on May 15 and requires passengers to undergo a touchless temperature screening during the airport check-in process. Any traveler with a temperature of 99.6 degrees or higher will not be allowed on board any flight. Some airports, such as London Heathrow, Puerto Rico's San Juan airport, and Paine Field—a secondary airport in Seattle—are using thermal cameras to scan crowds for feverish temperatures.
Although the COVID-19 temperature screening policies are taking hold around the world, some medical experts have questioned the efficacy of temperature screening in detecting who could potentially spread the coronavirus. The COVID-19 temperature screening would not catch individuals with the disease who are asymptomatic (estimated to be between 25 and 50 percent of those who contract the virus), do not have a fever as one of their symptoms (about 20 percent of patients with the virus, according to a WHO study), or have not begun to show symptoms yet. In fact, at 11 U.S. airports in the month of February, the Centers for Disease control temperature screened about 30,000 travelers but did not catch a single case of the coronavirus, a CNN report says.
The uncertainty surrounding health measures such as temperature checks has led some to call for immunity passports or COVID-19 tests inside airports. One new initiative is a "health pass" from Clear, the biometrics company that lets members zoom through security checkpoints with a retina and fingerprint scan. The Clear Health Pass would allow users to upload their COVID-19 test results to a smartphone app, and it would also prompt a health questionnaire once users arrived at the airport in order to supplement temperature screenings.
Although there is a lot for airlines and airports to sort through before guidelines become uniform, it's clear that health screening will be inextricable from air travel for the foreseeable future.
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