US may soon screen international air travellers for coronavirus

Passengers face new restrictions as JetBlue becomes the first major US airline to require face masks for travellers.

    A lone passenger checks in at the ticketing counter for United Airlines during the coronavirus pandemic at Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado, the United States [File: David Zalubowski/AP Photo]
    A lone passenger checks in at the ticketing counter for United Airlines during the coronavirus pandemic at Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado, the United States [File: David Zalubowski/AP Photo]

    Passengers arriving at airports in the United States from international destinations may soon be required to undergo temperature and virus checks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

    "We're looking at doing it on the international flights coming out of areas that are heavily infected," US President Donald Trump said following a meeting at the White House on Tuesday. "We will be looking into that in the very near future."

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    Trump said it has not been determined yet whether the federal government or the airlines would conduct the testing. "Maybe it's a combination of both," he said.

    Earlier this year, passengers from China were screened at US airports after landing in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Only a handful of passengers were quarantined.

    When asked about airport screening during an earnings call with analysts and reporters on Wednesday, Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines, said: "We are talking with the administration and members of US Congress about what the protocols should be."

    He added that an industry trade group was "leading the effort to advocate for some kind of health screening at the security checkpoint ... some kind of screening makes sense, and I think to get people flying again, they need to be comfortable, and I think that's one way to provide additional comfort."

    With no end in sight for the travel bans that have brought flying to a near halt, airlines across the world are facing deep uncertainty and heavy future losses, and no visibility on how and when operations can restart.

    A common set of rules is needed to help facilitate the restart of global air travel, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said, adding that new measures must still allow airline operations to be economically viable.

    IATA's Director General Alexandre de Juniac said that he was working with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations aviation agency, to develop new safety rules that will enable travel once coronavirus restrictions ease.

    "A single system, that is absolutely key for the restart of our industry so it is something we are working on," he told an online news conference.

    He said that the sooner the new measures were decided upon, the better, as they were key to allowing the recovery to start.

    A family from France arrives at Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport from Venezia, before traveling towards France, where cases of novel coronavirus has been confirmed in Barcelona, Spain Febru
    Travellers wearing face masks in Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport in Barcelona, Spain [File: Nacho Doce / Reuters]

    The new policy follows guidelines by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that stipulate all individuals should wear a face covering in public.

    Starting May 4, all JetBlue customers will be required to wear face coverings over their noses and mouths throughout their journeys, including during check-in, boarding, while in flight and deplaning, the carrier said in a statement.

    JetBlue started mandating face masks for flight attendants as well as other crew members including airport workers on April 17.

    American Airlines Group Inc on Monday mandated that its flight attendants wear masks starting May 1, and announced enhanced cleaning procedures.

    Customer and staff areas including tray tables, seatbelt buckles, jump seats and crew rest seats would be cleaned using a disinfectant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency starting this week, the company said.

    Customers will be provided sanitising wipes or gels and face masks starting early May, the company added.

    Last week, United Airlines mandated that its flight attendants wear a face covering or a mask while on duty. It was one of the first major US carriers to make such a requirement.

    SOURCE: News agencies