Airline executives and Pence agree to move forward with contact tracing of passengers


JUNE 26, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 26: Deborah Birx, coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Vice President Mike Pence, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar speak after a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the Department of Health and Human Services on June 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are rising in southern and western states forcing businesses to remain closed. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – Vice President Mike Pence has told major airlines to move forward with an industry-led solution for the contact tracing of passengers during the coronavirus pandemic.

A source familiar with the matter tells CNN that Pence gave his blessing to a “compromise solution” for contact tracing during a Friday meeting with airline executives.

Airlines had initially balked at the government’s demand that they collect detailed contact information on all passengers and distribute it to public health officials if requested. The airlines said it would be impossible to quickly overhaul the massive legacy computer systems that handle the industry’s vast booking networks.

The source tells CNN that Pence now supports the airlines’ proposal for a third-party app and website that would require passengers to input five points of data.

The industry group, Airlines for America, said in a statement after the meeting that it looked forward to implementing some initiatives to help relaunch the industry.

“We appreciate the collaboration and interest of the Administration since the onset of the pandemic,” the statement read. “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.”

The 45-minute closed-door meeting also covered temperature checks and expected European Union restrictions on Americans traveling abroad, but the source underscored that the most substantive talks centered on contact tracing.

The meeting comes as some airlines are returning to normal travel practices. American Airlines announced Friday that it would begin booking flights to capacity on Wednesday ahead of the Fourth of July travel weekend — something it has not done since the pandemic struck this spring.

But many airlines have also been making good on their threat to ban passengers from future flights for refusing to wear masks. Airlines instituted the masks-required policy in May, but the enforcement was initially far more lax.

Air travel overall is down about 80% from where it stood last year, according to Transportation Security Administration data. But it is steadily increasing: The 623,000 people the TSA screened Thursday were 23% of the 2.7 million the agency saw a year before, the agency’s busiest day since air travel cratered in mid-April.

Some of those in the industry have already had to participate in contact tracing. In March, US officials worked to identify people who had come into contact with a worker at Los Angeles International Airport who had tested positive for coronavirus, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters.

Courtesy/Source: CNN