Thermal scanning of passengers is common at many airports in Asia.
If the new Terminal Wellness Pilot Program rolling out at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on June 23 works out, then thermal scanning could become the new normal in U.S. airports too.
The new pilot program uses thermal camera technology to identify travelers who have elevated body temperatures.
The heat-seeking cameras are set up inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at both the main entrance on the departures level and inside the terminal near some international arrivals.
For the pilot program, the cameras will be screening both arriving and departing passengers who voluntarily agree to be screened. And LAX officials say passengers who don’t want to be screened will be able to decline the scan.
The thermal cameras will be identifying people with body temperatures of 100.4 degrees or more. A fever could be mean that a traveler has COVID-19.
Passengers flagged with an elevated temperature will go through secondary screening that includes having a medical professional do a temperature check with a handheld, non-contact thermometer.
LAX says departing passengers with elevated body temperature will be advised not to travel. Passengers on arriving international flights who may be ill could be referred to CDC staff on site.
Airports are joining airlines in ramping up service and welcoming passengers back to terminals that have been all but empty for months due to a record coronavirus-induced drop in air traffic.
And, like the airlines, most every airport is going all out to proclaim extreme vigilance in keeping facilities clean and travelers safe.
Mask required for all passengers entering the terminals? Yes at airports in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and in many other cities. Airports in some other cities, such as Charlotte, recommend face masks be worn in the terminals although most airlines now require passengers wear masks from the curb to – and onto – the planes.
Don’t have a mask? Airports will have them for you.
The Federal Government is in the process of distributing more than 86 million masks to airports. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) now has a stash of 4.7 million masks for distribution. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) has 2.5 million masks ready to hand out.
Floor decals marking six-foot lengths to encourage social distancing? Check.
Harrisburg International Airport (MDT), not far from Hershey, PA, reminds travelers to stay 6 feet or 72 KISSES chocolates away from other passengers.
Oodles of hand sanitizing stations? Check. Some airports have added hundreds of sanitizer dispensers and, like Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), now note the dispenser locations on maps and apps.
Plexiglass barriers at check-in counters, security checkpoints and gates? Check.
Step stools to make it easy for kids (and short people) to wash their hands in airport bathrooms? Check. More than 200 airports (and counting) now have Step ‘n Wash devices in the restrooms.
Shops and vending machines selling personal protective equipment? Check.
Many airport shops now stock PPE supplies and PPE vending machines are installed at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and at Denver International Airport. Hudson just announced plans to roll out PPE vending machines at 27 major airports in North America.
Branded plans and promises
Like the airlines, airports are also rolling out branded plans to underscore their commitment to cleanliness and passenger safety.
The Houston Airport’s “FlySafeHouston” program includes adding facial comparison technology at 15 gates by October and UV disinfecting cuffs for escalators, among other measures.
In many cases airport COVID-19 response plans highlight new technology and bonus efforts being made.
For example, the “Traveler Confidence Plan” at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport notes that the main escalators have “newly installed UV-C handrail sterilization modules” and that the airport has new high-capacity floor cleaners.
The #ReadySetROC initiative at the Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in New York promises that enhanced cleaning includes a regular misting of anti-bacterial cleaner/solution on seating and surfaces.
At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which installed the country’s first vending machine filled with personal protective equipment (PPE), the campaign is dubbed “LAS All In,” and includes Vegas-themed slogans such as “Don’t roll the dice: Stay 6 ft apart!” and “We’re doubling down on cleaning and sanitizing.”
TSA has new safety protocols too
This summer travelers will also encounter some new protocols at most every airport security checkpoint in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Transportation Security Administration’s updated security procedures now allow travelers to carry up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in carry-on bags, but require those containers to be screened separately. Passengers may also wear their face masks during the TSA screening process but should be ready to lower or adjust the mask for an identity check.
To avoid having TSA officers touch passengers’ paper boarding passes or mobile devices, TSA will ask all passengers to scan their own boarding pass and hold it up for a TSA officer to do a visual check.
And TSA now asks that any food packed in carry-on bags to removed and scanned separately. So to avoid having your food contaminated in a bin or on the belt, be sure to pack it inside a clear plastic bag.
It is definitely a sign of the times. And the airport amenity of the week.
To help passengers and employees comply with the face mask covering requirement at Denver International (DEN), the airport now has two vending machines that sell face masks as well as sanitizing wipes.
The vending machines are stocked with:
Two-pack disposable mask with one gel sanitizer packet and two single-use alcohol towelettes: $6/package
Two-pack KN95 mask with one gel sanitizer packet and two single-use alcohol towelettes: $12/package
Soon, maybe not very soon, but soon, you will go to an airport and board a plane.
In the meantime, here are some newsy tidbits from that world.
Alaska Airlines is staying active. And a bit fishy
You may be sitting around and not getting many frequent flyer miles from flying.
But Alaska Airlines has a fun campaign that will award you some bonus miles for staying active.
The airline is buddying up with fitness app Strava to give away 250,000 miles to Mileage Plan members as part of the Miles on the Ground Challenge.
Get the app, do 360 minutes physical activity by May 30, 2020, and you will qualify to enter a drawing to win up to 100,000 miles.
Alaska Airlines also did a nice pivot with the annual fly-in of the first Copper River salmon from Alaska to Seattle.
Instead of heading to area restaurants, part of the first planeload of copper river salmon became meals for health care workers. The rest was used for a salmon dinner fundraiser that generated enough money to buy 77,000 meals for people in the community.
COVID-19 testing at airports
There is a lot of chatter about doing thermal cameras and temperature checks at airport security checkpoints and boarding gates.
But that is not a foolproof method of determining if a passenger has a case of COVID-19.
So, several airports and airlines are going beyond that and requiring passengers to either have proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test result or take a test on the spot to avoid quarantine.
In mid-April, Dubai-based Emirates began requiring passengers departing Dubai International Airport to underdo rapid COVID-19 blood tests, with results in 10 minutes.
Testing at Vienna Airport
Anyone traveling to Austria right now is required to either have a recent medical certificate showing they are negative for COVID-19 or go into a 14-day quarantine.
The tests are not free. They cost EUR 190 (about $207), but the results come back in three to six hours and, if negative, allow the passenger to skip the quarantine.
All other arriving passengers without a health certificate are sent immediately to quarantine, according to the airport, and “must arrange for themselves to be tested by a laboratory at the quarantine location, which may involve longer waiting times.”
Iceland planning on the spot COVID-19 tests at KEF Airport
The government of Iceland expects to begin welcoming back international flight no later than June 15. And when it does, the plan is to give travelers the option of getting testing for COVID-19 on arrival at Keflavik Airport (KEF) to avoid a two-week quarantine.
The aviation industry, government agencies, and technology companies are scrambling to find a way to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic so that travelers will be safe in airports and in the sky.
Already, masks, hand sanitizing stations, and hyper-vigilant cleaning protocols have become standard.
And now temperature checks are being added to the list.
Airports, airlines and industry organizations are discussing how to make this happen on a national level.
But the Port of Seattle Commission doesn’t want to wait.
On Wednesday the commission told its staff to work up a plan, by June 9, for rolling out temperature screenings at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).
The priority will be on screening arriving international passengers. And with this directive, SEA believes it is the first large U.S. airport to begin working on a formal plan for temperature checks and health screening.
Port of Seattle commissioners acknowledge that with temperature screening will come questions. Mostly about passenger privacy and the fact that temperature checks won’t catch even a majority of virus carriers.
“No single measure is sufficient to slow the spread of coronavirus, and each comes with additional costs and inconvenience. However, given the gravity of the virus, and the impact it has had on our region’s well-being, the benefits of these measures outweigh the costs,” Port of Seattle commissioners said in a statement.