As America continues to reopen amid the coronavirus, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to begin checking passengers’ temperatures before they board airplanes, a move that could start as soon as next week, according to a new report.
“Details of the plan are under review by the White House and are subject to change,” the Wall Street Journal reported. While the plan includes about a dozen airports, “It couldn’t be determined which airports will initially have the new scanning procedures.”
A senior Trump administration official told the Journal the new testing would cost less than $20 million.
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% amid transport restrictions and stay-at-home orders.
People familiar with the matter said the TSA has raised concerns about taking on responsibility for temperature scanning, believing it doesn’t fall within the scope of its security mission. Its employees also have been exposed: Over 500 have tested positive for Covid-19 and six have died.
But the TSA pushed back on the report. “At this time, no decision has been made regarding specific health screening measures at airports,” the TSA said Friday.
Not everyone likes the plan. “I cannot find any law that gives TSA the authority to perform temperature checks as reported,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement to the Journal. The Trump administration “should not put these front-line workers in further danger in order to provide passengers a potential false sense of safety,” he said.
As the coronavirus spread across the U.S., air travel plummeted as workers took to Zoom and other platforms to hold conference meetings and interface without being in the same place. It’s unclear how readily the virus is transmitted via airborne droplets, but Americans fear confined spaces such as airplanes and the recycled air could spread COVID-19 more quickly.
The federal government forked over $50 billion to U.S. airlines to help them get through the virus crisis, but some airlines say that may not be enough.
Airlines are taking steps to ensure social distancing on their planes, with most carriers saying they’ll operate at 50%-60% occupancy. Delta Air Lines is blocking middle seats, but others plan to charge more for the empty seat. Frontier Airlines announced this month a “More Room” fee running until the end of August, in which a passenger could pay from $39 each way to guarantee the middle seat stays open.
But some officials say taking passengers’ temperatures won’t ensure that fliers aren’t carrying the virus, which is asymptomatic in as many as half the people who contract it. In addition, someone who simply has a cold or the flu could be barred from travel.
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