Top airline executives met with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, with details starting to trickle out from the 45-minute meeting at the White House on how the industry moves forward amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Pence and airline officials reportedly agreed to an aviation-led plan for the contact tracing of passengers, according to CNN.
But in a separate report from Reuters News Service, there were no commitments from the White House on mandating temperature checks for airline passengers.
The meeting, as one might expect, was about as high-powered as you can get. According to the White House, attendees included:
The Vice President
Ken Cucinelli, Acting Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
Elaine Chao, Secretary, Department of Transportation
Alex Azar, Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services
Robert Redfield, Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Joel Szabat, Assistant Secretary for Aviation & International Affairs, Department of Transportation
Scott Kirby, CEO, United Airlines
Doug Parker, CEO, American Airlines
Ed Bastian, CEO, Delta Air Lines
Tom Nealon, President, Southwest Airlines
Robin Hayes, CEO, JetBlue Airways
Nicholas Calio, CEO, Airlines for America
A source told CNN that despite earlier reservations by the airlines to collect contact information from passengers and hand it over to health officials if requested, the industry agreed to a compromise solution. Pence agreed to the airlines’ proposal for a third-party app and website that would require passengers to input five points of data.
“We appreciate the collaboration and interest of the Administration since the onset of the pandemic,” Calio said in a statement. “We had a constructive conversation today with the Vice President and remain grateful for his leadership through this health crisis. We look forward to working with the Administration to identify and implement initiatives that help relaunch the U.S. airline industry, get people moving again and rebuild the American economy.”
Airlines have struggled greatly since the onset of the pandemic in March, with capacity down to 4 percent at one point and some flights running with just a passenger or two. It has improved somewhat of late, with the number of passengers screened by the Transportation Security Administration up in the last month or so, but still off more than 70 percent compared to the same dates last year.
Part of the problem has been a tepid response from the flying public to get back on an airplane out of concern for health and safety over the pandemic. Although many airlines have asked fliers to fill out health forms prior to boarding, some have been able to circumvent the process.
Airlines have been pushing for a mandatory temperature check on all passengers before boarding flights to help reassure fliers of the aircraft’s safety, but they want the government to do the testing.
According to Reuters, there was no agreement on that at the meeting despite the fact that the administration is open to the testing if it is conducted by the TSA and that the airlines have said they would refund airfares to anyone denied boarding if they had a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher.
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