US airlines to have White House talks amid virus concerns

The chief executives of major United States airlines are set to hold a meeting on Friday to discuss a range of coronavirus-related travel issues including the industry’s push to convince the federal government to mandate temperature checks for passengers, three people briefed on the matter told the Reuters news agency.

The meeting with Vice President Mike Pence and other senior US officials is expected to include the CEOs of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways Corp, the sources said.

The discussions will also include potential extended European Union travel restrictions on US travellers, contact tracing of passengers and the impact of COVID-19 on travel demand, among other issues, the sources said.

The airlines and the White House declined to comment on the meeting.

The proposed measures come amid a surge in coronavirus cases in parts of the US. Several states set single-day case records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma.

Lockdowns have been significantly eased in many states, leading to an increase in people venturing out again. Health officials now believe that as many as 20 million Americans have contracted the coronavirus. That is nearly 10 times as many infections as the 2.3 million cases that have been confirmed.

US airlines are pushing the administration of US President Donald Trump to require temperature checks for passengers in a bid to reassure customers about the safety of travel in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Airlines for America, which represents the largest US airlines, said on Thursday that its members voluntarily pledged to refund tickets for passengers with high temperatures during federal screenings.

Reuters news agency reported on May 9 that the US government has been studying imposing temperature checks at airports, but two US officials said on Thursday that no decision has been made – and the government still has not decided what agency would conduct tests.

Many believe the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would conduct tests, but questions remain including whether passengers with high fevers would be reported to public health authorities.

“Nobody wants to be the person that tells a flying, paying customer they can’t fly that day,” United Executive Chairman Oscar Munoz said during a video conference on Thursday.

US officials said temperature checks would not eliminate coronavirus risks but could deter unwell people from travelling.

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