Major Carriers Commit To Refunding Tickets If Temperature Checks Prevent Passengers From Traveling

From Forbes

Airport security across the country may soon include temperature checks to screen for potential coronavirus cases and the air carrier industry is getting behind the measures with new refund guarantees if a passenger gets turned back.

The new commitment comes from Airlines For America (AFA), the trade association and lobbying group to which most major carriers in the United States subscribe. Throughout the pandemic, AFA has been advocating for better safety measures across the entire air travel experience as the traveler journey constantly evolves.

As passenger demand continues to recover past the precipitous drop in air travel from the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, airlines have come under increasing pressure to guarantee passenger safety. It’s a precarious line to walk. Social distancing measures suggest that travelers should stay at least six feet apart from one another to reduce exposure to other passengers, but on an airplane, it’s difficult to keep those standards.

Initially, air carriers tried blocking middle seats to help maintain distance and reassure travelers. The solution, however, was short term. To stay profitable, airlines need to run at near-capacity to offset operating costs, an impossible target when middle seats are empty. Late in April, RyanAir CEO went so far as to brush off the prospect of blocked middle seats, suggesting that the air carrier couldn’t make money off of 66% load factors.

It’s also not clear how well empty-middle seats prevent pathogens from spreading across an airplane. Even with those seats empty, rows in front of and behind a passenger are less than six feet away.

Now, airlines are trying to work with airports and the government to build in better screening and safety measures before passengers even step on the plane.

One potential approach among a more comprehensive spectrum of measures includes running temperature screenings at airport security checkpoints. That extra step, however, likely involves engagement with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a federal agency, as well as careful handling with passengers who may be eager to travel and unwilling to submit to a temperature check.

To help ease the passenger part of the equation, this week Airlines For America and its partner carriers officially committed to refunding travelers turned back by a temperature screening, an important safety net for consumers that may be worried about paying for an expensive ticket today and getting turned back at the airport tomorrow. By building in that safety net, airlines can potentially lower the bar to deploying temperature checks at scale.

Still, there are more hurdles to cross before the entire country’s airport network starts implementing temperature checks. On Friday, major air carriers met with the Vice President to discuss a path forward including financial and security measures. No decision on temperature checks, however, came forth.

For now, AFA’s commitment may still come into play if airports and air carriers deploy temperature checks on an ad-hoc basis. But until the checks are universally deployed, the guarantee may hold little water.

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