It surprised me to learn that airlines are asking passengers whether they’ve been to China or – starting Monday – Iran within the previous two weeks and relying on honest answers in order to evaluate the passenger’s fitness for travel. Airlines have to get the federal government’s affirmative permission for each passenger to fly, but the federal government isn’t telling them who to exclude from boarding impermissible flights based on recent travel history.
It turns out as well that the quarantine system that’s set up for arriving passengers from China has a loophole: not starting the air portion of the trip on the mainland and transiting an airport with U.S. immigration pre-clearance.
Passengers entering the U.S. from China (and shortly also Iran) are only permitted to use one of 11 airports in order to receive heightened screening: New York JFK; Chicago O’Hare; San Francisco; Seattle; Honolulu; LAX; Atlanta; Washington Dulles; Newark; Dallas Fort-Worth; and Detroit. But what if a passenger transits somewhere enroute to the U.S.?
One passenger’s story illustrates a flaw in this system. He returned home to Kentucky skipping these airports entirely.
- He went from China to Hong Kong and was then scheduled to fly Hong Kong – Toronto – Detroit – Cincinnati. His point of entry into the U.S. was scheduled to be the approved Detroit airport.
- His Toronto – Detroit flight was cancelled. Air Canada rebooked him direct to Cincinnati.
Concerned that he wasn’t following the rules, he flagged this to Air Canada, but was told he had nothing to worry about. (Update: And Air Canada was correct.)
“They said you’re already cleared,” Collins said, recalling a conversation with Air Canada. “The US government has already cleared you to be here. We’re just going to send you to Cincinnati.”
According to Collins, the agent further explained that since he had gone through immigration, he was already in a “US-controlled” area.
He had no issue at preclearance since the flight portion of his itinerary didn’t actually start on the mainland. The man promises he doesn’t have coronavirus, having “quarantined himself in his Chinese apartment for a month” going out for groceries once a week during which time “his temperature was taken by officials multiple times.” Of course he could have contracted the virus while on one of these trips, or on departure from China, and remained asymptomatic for some time.