Airline sick-passenger rules allow diseases to spread
Yesterday, the Department of Transportation (DOT) held an open hearing on whether passengers can assess their contagiousness. The airlines and IATA (International Air Travel Association) were against allowing passengers to assess whether they are contagious. Consumer groups, including Travelers United, asked for new rules.
Airlines and thousands of passengers suffered severe delays because of the coronavirus-induced pandemic. During the coronavirus, efforts to spot passengers through testing with the virus were rampant. This pandemic highlighted the airline’s practice of not having workable rules to deal with sick passengers.
The airline sick passenger rules affected me personally several years ago. I was diagnosed with pneumonia just before getting ready to fly back to the US. I asked Delta Air Lines whether I could fly three days later because I was suffering from pneumonia. They answered,, “Of course, but it will cost you.” I had a doctor’s note, hospital records, and x-rays to show my condition. I was told that if I did not use my ticket, I would be charged a $300 change fee and would have to pay the full fare for my return flight rather than my discounted ticket. NOTE: Currently, many change fees have been eliminated for all but basic economy tickets and many international flights.
Even without the change fee the cost of staying in Europe another week and getting my strength back in a B&B was exorbitant.
The flight change was far more expensive than I was willing to pay. However, I was ready to pay for my costs in Madrid for a small hotel and meals. But, Delta was not budging on its demand to extract extra money from me to stay in Madrid for another three days. Delta airline’s sick passenger rules forced me to fly. Interestingly, the Delta crew could have refused to allow me on the plane, though a doctor’s note, three-day-old x-rays and the hospital report had no influence.
Center for Disease Control recommends those with the flu avoid travel for 24 hours after the fever is gone
The CDC recommends “people sick with flu stay home and avoid travel for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.” However, airlines will charge passengers to do that. Until the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, passengers had to pay a whopping cancellation fee. Plus, airlines will then charge passengers the last-minute airfares. Those can add hundreds of dollars to sick passenger expenses.
The World Health Organization rules: Travelers with medical conditions.
Airlines can make medical decisions about which passengers to allow onboard flights. However, doctors are not allowed to stop passengers from flying. This is genuinely an upside-down world.
Airlines have the right to refuse to carry passengers with conditions that may worsen. If the crew believes a passenger may have serious consequences during the flight, the passenger can be stopped. They may require medical clearance from their medical department/adviser if there is an indication that a passenger could be suffering from any disease or physical or mental condition that:
- may be considered a potential hazard to the safety of the aircraft;
- adversely affects the welfare and comfort of the other passengers and/or crew members;
- requires medical attention and/or special equipment during the flight;
- may be aggravated by the flight.
If cabin crew suspects before departure that a passenger may be ill, the aircraft’s captain will be informed and a decision made as to whether the passenger is fit to travel, needs medical attention or presents a danger to other passengers and crew or to the safety of the aircraft.
It is time that airlines allow passengers with legitimate illnesses to postpone flights without cost.
It is far better for passengers, the crew, and the airline to permit sick passengers to change flights. This will stop them from infecting other passengers. Perhaps the monkeypox will cause the FAA and CDC to develop new rules.
This decision is difficult, but airlines can decide how to police any resulting fraud. Travelers United supports no increase in airfares, the acceptance of a standby ticket status for rebooked flights, and non-expiring flight credits for those caught in this conundrum.
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Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 14 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation, and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.