It may be a good idea to mandate passengers wear masks, and to take their temperatures as they arrive at the airport. However it’s a bad idea for government to charge TSA with taking temperatures of passengers who are already inside the airport at security checkpoints.
Airlines have lobbied for TSA to do this, and TSA has prepared to do it, however Aviation Policy News points out that neither the FAA nor TSA have the legal authority to mandate masks or take temperatures.
While “mask-mandate supporters have cited a 2006 notice in the Federal Register in which the FAA declares itself to be a “public health authority”” this related only to FAA reseaerchers complying with health privacy rules rather than exercising powers over passengers.
Meanwhile TSA has been required by courts to publish regulations outlining what screening processes are required, and those will have to comport with the agency’s statuatory mandate to protect air transportation from violent threats. The TSA has gone through no such rulemaking.
The Secretary of Transportation, though, might be able to impose a mask and temperature check requirement on air passengers as an exercise of her authority to ensure ‘safe and adequate’ air transportation.
The tenuous legal basis for govenrment mask mandates for air passengers, at least, was recognized by Congress. That’s why the latest coronavirus stimulus package passed by the House would crate legislative authority for a mask mandate, “requir[ing] each passenger and cabin crew member to wear a mask or protective face covering while onboard an aircraft of the air carrier” until the national emergency declaration for COVID-19 expires.
An airport, however, may be able to enforce masks and temperature checks “without violating federal grant assurances, according to FAA guidance from late March—and especially if airports merely mirror policies imposed by state and local public health authorities.”