Woman waiting in a long line for a flight wearing a N95 face mask during a global pandemic

US airlines to passengers: acknowledge your health before flying

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As COVID-19 infection rates skyrocket in the United States, major US airlines are voluntarily implementing temporary health acknowledgment policies for passengers, saying the practice will provide “an additional level of protection during the crisis”.

“Health acknowledgments encourage passengers to make an evaluation of their own health prior to travel. Passengers who fail or refuse to complete the health acknowledgment may be deemed unfit to travel and each carrier will resolve the matter in accordance with its own policies,” warns the Airlines for America (A4A) trade group.

“This measure is expected to remain in place throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis,” adds A4A, which represents Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest and United Airlines.

It remains to be seen how each airline will implement the protocol, but according to the association, health acknowledgements typically cover three primary areas:

  • Face Coverings: assurance that the passenger will bring a face covering and wear it at the airport, on the jet bridge and on board the aircraft;
  • Symptoms: assurance that the passenger is not experiencing a temperature (38C/100.4F or higher), coughing, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, chills, muscle pain and/or sore throat; and
  • Exposure: assurance that the passenger has not had close contact with someone who tested positive or had symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

A4A, meanwhile, continues to press the US Transportation Security Administration to begin conducting temperature screenings of the traveling public and customer-facing employees “as long as necessary during the COVID-19 public health crisis”.

The TSA has not yet announced a formal decision, but in a statement last week, A4A vowed that its member carriers will voluntarily pledge to refund tickets for any passenger who is found to have an elevated temperature — as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines — during a screening process conducted by federal authorities prior to travel.

Notably, US low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines, which is not a member of the association, has been conducting temperature screenings since 1 June.

As US airlines seek assurances that passengers are fit to fly, American Airlines is making headlines for forgoing onboard social distancing, and opting to fill its aircraft to capacity from 1 July. This is akin to United’s approach, but contrasts with certain other members of A4A, which have committed to blocking seats for a spell.

Through 30 September, Delta is flying at no more than 60% capacity in Main Cabin economy class and 50% in first class, while Southwest is limiting the number of passengers on flights to maintain physical distance, meaning that many middle seats are flying empty.

JetBlue is blocking seats through at least the July 4 holiday.

In another line of defense to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, A4A says its members are “vigorously enforcing face covering requirements“. However, images continue to circulate on social media showing some passengers not wearing masks.

A federal mandate would help airlines enforce their mask policies.

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