When TSA discovers a passenger with a temperature above 100.4° Fahrenheit, what’s next?
Should TSA check temperatures? Newspapers and talking heads on TV are filled with reports. The TSA may start to take passengers’ temperatures any day now at airport security checkpoints. Then what?
Does TSA deny that person permission to go through the security checkpoint? Do they escort the passenger to the plane and let the gate agent, pilots, or flight attendants know? How does the passenger fly to their destination? Who knows? This is a decision that is fraught with danger and a road map to lawsuits.
The bottom line — no one knows whether a person has COVID-19 based on a temperature check. Plus, airline pilots and flight attendants are not tested for coronavirus prior to every flight across all airlines. And, the airlines have not changed one bit of their customer service manuals that deal with sick passengers.
As soon as the current temporary waivers expire, the airlines will return to their rules of allowing sick passengers to change flights. However, those changes come at a cost — $200 change fees for domestic flights and $300+ for international flights. Plus, passengers will have to pay for the difference in airfares. That can easily reach a cost of several thousand dollars.
Details of should TSA check temperatures at airports are under review
The Wall Street Journal revealed that TSA may be starting to assess passengers’ temperatures shortly. However, many lawmakers and other government executives have parsed the wording of the TSA mission description. The mission statement doesn’t seem to allow TSA permission to take temperatures of passengers.
Details of the plan are under review by the White House and are subject to change, the people said. It couldn’t be determined which airports will initially have the new scanning procedures. A senior Trump administration official said the initial rollout is expected to cost less than $20 million, and that passengers won’t be charged an additional fee.
Airlines have been pushing for the Transportation Security Administration to start taking passengers’ temperatures as part of a multifaceted effort to keep potentially sick people from boarding planes and to make passengers feel more comfortable taking trips again. Demand for air travel has dropped more than 90 percent amid transport restrictions and stay-at-home orders.
Of course, airlines have required sick people to fly for more than two decades. They have no system for allowing contagious passengers to change flights. Once upon a time, a doctor’s note did the trick. However, airfare segmentation and dramatic differences in ticket costs led airlines to prioritize income over passenger safety.
There are many reasons for high temperatures
According to Medical News Today newsletter, fevers can result from various factors, including:
- an infection, such as strep throat, the flu, chickenpox, pneumonia, or COVID-19
- rheumatoid arthritis
- some medications
- overexposing the skin to sunlight, or sunburn
- heatstroke, either due to high ambient temperatures or prolonged strenuous exercise
- silicosis, which is a type of lung disease caused by long-term exposure to silica dust
- amphetamine abuse
- alcohol withdrawal
- COVID-19, maybe
In our zeal to make everyone comfortable enough to fly the airlines seem willing to sacrifice passengers with high temperatures in order to get more revenue. Note: Not one major airline has volunteered to take their passengers’ temperatures.
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Frontier Airlines is the only airline, as of today, that has announced temperature screenings
Frontier Airlines announced in early May that it will implement temperature screenings, starting on June 1, 2020. As we get closer to that date, I believe that Frontier will back away from temperature screenings. They just have no plan about how to deal with irate passengers who are told they cannot fly.
“The health and safety of everyone flying Frontier is paramount and temperature screenings add an additional layer of protection for everyone onboard,” said Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle. “This new step during the boarding process, coupled with face coverings and elevated disinfection procedures, will serve to provide Frontier customers an assurance that their well-being is our foremost priority and we are taking every measure to help them travel comfortably and safely.”
Customers will be screened via touchless thermometers prior to boarding. If a customer’s temperature reading is 100.4 degrees or higher, they will be given time to rest, if the flight departure time allows, before receiving a second check. If the second check is 100.4 degrees or higher, a Frontier gate agent will explain to the customer that they will not be flying that day for the health and safety of others. Frontier will work with that customer to rebook travel on a later date or otherwise accommodate the traveler’s preferences with respect to their reservation.
… all Frontier airport team members will be held to the same standard and not be allowed to work if their temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher at the start of their shift. Frontier will not maintain a record of the temperatures of passengers or team members.
Center for Disease Control recommends those with the flu avoid travel for 24 hours after the fever is gone. That goes for COVID-19 as well, but airlines have not changed their rules.
The CDC recommends “people sick with flu stay home and avoid travel for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone.” However, airlines charge passengers to do that. Passengers must pay a whopping cancellation fee. The change fees are $200 for domestic flights and $300+ and more for international flights. Plus, airlines then charge passengers the last-minute airfares. Those can add hundreds of dollars to sick passenger expenses.
Dealing with the coronavirus is shining a light on the airlines’ sick passenger practices. Not allowing passengers to change their flights without penalties even when they come with letters from doctors is wrong. Airlines must begin to allow sick passengers to change flights without an onerous financial burden. Then, scanning passengers for fevers can be forgotten, as it should be.
Current rules should protect passengers
Wear a mask. Disinfect planes. Pass out disinfecting towelettes to clean the passengers’ personal area and their hands. Provide a modicum of social distancing. That and patience should allow for most passengers to fly safely.
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past ten years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.