FAA Has Blocked Airport From Screening Passengers For Covid-19 For Months, Afraid It Might Work

Pre-departure testing is a requirement to travel to Hawaii, New York, and even much of the world where borders are at least partially open. Airlines have been working to get clinics open inside of airports, and to coordinate rapid turnaround testing for their passengers.

Airlines previously advocated for the government to do temperature checks of all passengers. The airlines themselves require passengers to fill out a health checklist as part of check-in, and require masks in areas of airport terminals they control and on board their planes. Airlines and airports have new cleaning regimes to address potential surface transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

But did you know that some airports have been trying to spend CARES Act money to set up screening regimes, and the federal government hasn’t allowed them to do it?

The Federal Aviation Administration has spent the last five months considering whether to allow airports to use grant money they don’t even know what to do with use it for Covid-19 screening. There’s no end in sight for the FAA’s review.

Back in the spring the Cedar Rapids, Iowa airport started working on a plan to screen passengers for Covid-19 as they passed through security. Getting this set up was going to cost $800,000.

The airport authority agreed to the plan, making screening for all passengers departing the airport mandatory. They were going to require a health checklist, like the airlines have done at check-in, and refer passengers to doctors if they raised flags they could be sick.

  • In order to use some of the $22,845,236 they received from the CARES Act to pay for it, they needed FAA permission. The CARES Act handed out $10 billion to airports, in some cases more than airports can spend in 20 years.

  • The airport asked the FAA in May if this was a permitted use of funds and still has not heard back. According to the airport manager, “I really don’t have a timeline when we might hear. We’re in limbo.” The FAA says they are ‘continuing to review the proposal’. Now, airlines are increasingly working to get Covid-19 testing in airports but airports themselves can’t spend the federal money they’ve already been sent for passenger screening efforts.

  • The problem, apparently, is that the FAA fears after the CARES Act funds are spent that the program “could ultimately end up being passed on to airlines.” The fear is that the program might succeed and be replicated: According to the chief executive of the hospital that worked on the Cedar Rapids plan “they were nervous about the financial impact if this initiative succeeded and scaled to include all airports in the country.”

How can protecting passengers and airport staff from Covid-19 not be an allowable use of CARES Act money? Yet according to the Director of the Cedar Rapid airport, “there’s now no chance of getting his program up and running before Thanksgiving. But if the FAA signed off in the next few days, he said he would push to have it in place before Christmas.”

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Why don’t they just spend the money with or without the FAA’s blessing? Tell them to try to collect it if they later feel its necessary. Do they actually have the funds in house?

  2. Can anyone think beyond our current situation to consider the ramifications of giving governmental agencies with very little oversite the ability to perform medical tests as a prerequisite to travel? Remember that liberty surrendered during a crisis is never returned (see also: Patriot Act).

  3. Getting people to feel safe and confident to travel (through masks, vaccines, monitoring, quarantine, etc.) should be the number one priority of the travel industry.

    Without meaningful measure, people are not going to want to travel freely.

    It’s not a hard concept to understand.

  4. Quite frankly, after visiting an island that required testing results and a health questionnaire, I realized the whole process was a complete joke and waste of time and money. Hundreds of people crammed shoulder to shoulder in a small enclosed environment waiting for hours, all to get asked the same questions again and have employees transpose answers. Who is going to say “yes, I have covid symptoms” at that point anyway? And the paperwork just kept piling up and was thrown into boxes, absolutely nobody was going to ever even glance at it again.

    The only thing I could see working is the quick $5-$10 salvia tests and use of dogs. Hand out the tests as people get off the plane and have them show the results to customs as they walk through, and use dogs as a backup where needed. Oh, and my temp was checked 8 or 10 times and was never above 97*. Yeah, right. I was overheating in 90* humid air wearing long pants and sweating profusely.

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