A slew of major U.S. airlines, including America, Delta and United Airlines, said on Friday they would begin collecting key contact tracing data from passengers on international flights. The contact tracing program has been agreed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) but passenger participation will be voluntary and there are no plans to extend the program to domestic flights.
Other airlines to have signed up to the program include Alaska, Hawaiian, jetBlue and Southwest Airlines. The program was announced by trade group Airlines 4 America which described contact tracing as “an additional layer of protection for the traveling public”.
U.S. airlines had previously rejected contact tracing proposals, saying the requirement to collect data like phone numbers and email addresses from passengers was too onerous and that the CDC should set up its own system to collect such information.
A draft order from CDC for airline contact tracing that was drawn up last February was rejected by the then Trump-led White House over privacy concerns. Airlines 4 America did not say on Friday how airlines planned to store and protect passenger data, how it would share any data collected and when such data would be destroyed.
Nicholas E. Calio, president and chief executive of the trade group admitted that airlines had agreed to set up the contact tracing program in an effort to ease border and travel restrictions.
“We are hopeful that this measure, coupled with existing testing requirements for passengers flying to the U.S., will lead policymakers to lift travel restrictions so that international travel can resume and the social and economic benefits of that travel can be realized,” Calio commented.
Passengers will be asked to provide their legal name, two phone numbers they can reached on, a contact email address and the address where they will be staying in the United States.
Information could then be shared with both the CDC and local public health authorities should a fellow passenger test positive for COVID-19. Airlines maintain that the chance of transmission onboard an aircraft remains extremely low, although health authorities in some countries have previously told entire planeloads to self-isolate after another passenger has tested positive for the novel Coronavirus.
Delta set up its own international contact tracing program in mid-December and in conjunction with the CDC. United Airlines followed suit days later.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.