Why Isn’t The FAA Mandating Temperature Checks And COVID-19 Testing?

temperature check of traveller
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Why isn’t the FAA mandating temperature checks of everyone who enters an airport? Why not also mandate that airlines provide COVID-19 tests of all employees who come into contact with passengers? This would make the traveling public feel better about flying.

Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief Karen Walker answers: 

The real question is: Why isn’t the Transportation Department, within which the FAA is the aviation agency, or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), mandating and conducting these checks? Other countries, especially in Asia, have long conducted temperature checks of incoming passengers and crews to reduce the risk of virus infections, especially during flu seasons. The U.S. needs to catch up.

Airlines want government agencies to take on the responsibility for several reasons. People of concern would be screened out before they entered the air-side part of airport terminals, significantly decreasing risk to passengers, crews and airport employees. It would make health screening consistent across all U.S. airports—just as security screening is today. And it would hold more weight with passengers. The government, not individual airlines, should be saying: “You’ve failed the temperature test. You cannot fly today.”

However, the “S” in TSA stands for “security,” and the traditional view of a security threat is terrorism. It doesn’t seem that the DHS has a handle on how to manage a health risk. Ultimately, that might change.

Then there are cost and liability issues. If the FAA had to add staff to every airport to conduct health/temperature screenings, that plus the cost of thermometers would require funding. And in litigious America, people who are denied entry might sue the government for their missed flights.

The issue of wearing masks is complicated because individual airlines are mandating the wearing of masks, in some cases without explicit government support. As more states require that masks be worn inside public buildings, rules may vary from airport to airport. Again, consistency is needed.

COVID-19 testing of aviation employees is taking place, though it differs from airline to airline. In the U.S., there are still problems with accessibility to testing for nonurgent cases, and in many cases, test results do not come back for days, making them useless for crew members. Regular COVID-19 testing for airline employees would be viable only if easily available at every airport were quick and simple inexpensive tests (ideally with a mouth swab) with fast results. None of those conditions exist right now.

But preflight health-screening declaration forms, social distancing in airports, the multiple levels of aircraft deep cleaning, mask-wearing and onboard hospital-grade HEPA filters are keeping airports and airliners very clean and low risk—much less risky than the restaurants, bars, salons, grocery stores and other places where many Americans are congregating.

Karen Walker

Karen Walker is Air Transport World Editor-in-Chief and Aviation Week Network Group Air Transport Editor-in-Chief. She joined ATW in 2011 and oversees the editorial content and direction of ATW, Routes and Aviation Week Group air transport content.