Skip to content

Should airlines do more to screen for sick passengers?

Jan. 01, 2021
9 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor's Note

/strong> This story has been updated with new infomation.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new infomation.

It's tricky business keeping up with all the regulations and recommendations regarding the novel coronavirus, which are designed to keep us safe and curtail the spread of COVID-19. But there's really no excuse for blatantly disregarding the rules and forgoing common sense.

And that's exactly what happened on Nov. 29, when a couple flew home to Hawaii from San Francisco knowing they had just tested positive for COVID-19.

The quarantine station at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) instructed the couple not to fly and to isolate, CNN reported. But, what did they do? They boarded the flight with their child anyway and were arrested upon arrival in Lihue on Kauai (LIH) and charged with second-degree reckless endangering and released (hopefully to go quarantine) on a $1,000 bail.

San Francisco International airport. (Photo by JasonDoiy / Getty Images)

I would certainly argue there should be a system of checks and balances in place at the airport, so the airline would be alerted if passengers are sick and shouldn't be allowed to board. Unfortunately, we need these kinds of barriers because some of our fellow citizens can't be trusted to do the right or responsible thing.

Speaking candidly, if I were this couple with a child, would I want to go sit in an expensive California hotel room for two weeks not doing much? Absolutely not. As a father of 4- and 6-year old children, I'm empathetic to that predicament.

But regardless of what's convenient or fun, you need to recognize what's best for the collective, rather than for yourself. Fellow passengers could be immunocompromised, and putting other passengers and flight crew at risk simply isn't acceptable when you know you're infected with a potentially lethal disease.

As it happens, a TPG staff member had the exact same experience of testing positive at SFO en route to Hawaii. And while it certainly was not very much fun, this traveler did the correct thing and quarantined in San Francisco for two weeks.

Related: Moving target: Here’s everything you need to know about Hawaii’s ever-changing visitor policy

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disturbing decisions

Travel isn't going to truly return until this global health crisis has subsided — period. And, unfortunately, the common decency of some of our fellow citizens is currently preventing that scenario.

As an ardent sports fan, for example, the way professional and amateur sports have been handled has me baffled. The NFL's latest disaster of rescheduling a game with members of the Baltimore Ravens still testing positive less than 24 hours before men wrestle each other to the ground is incredible. The Denver Broncos were just sent to play an NFL regular-season game without a quarterback on their roster which is astounding.

At the college level, the Texas A&M band seems to have figured out a way to wear masks while playing wind instruments:

I get it: You're outside and have to blow into an instrument. But a few rows down on the field, college athletes without masks are tackling each other and swapping sweat. The disparity of fans with masks, fans without masks, the band with holes in their masks and football players breathing on each other — all in the same stadium — doesn't give me much hope in the future of our species.

In the travel space, we've seen a few people who are either making ridiculous political statements or who have really questionable critical thinking skills. And, of course, we have to wonder how this man wearing underwear on his face was even allowed to board a flight:

Finally, there's the survey the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said 39% of respondents had misused household cleaning products to try and kill COVID-19, including 25% who reported "an adverse health effect that they believed was a result" of the misuse of the household cleaning products.

Whether you're a professional athlete, a traveler or you're at home taste-testing bleach, basic decision-making skills are lacking at all levels. This, in my opinion, is the biggest barrier preventing us from returning to travel, or anything resembling normalcy.

What we should do

My sports coaches would constantly yell at us that we needed to "be smart" in order to succeed.

I always thought that was a strange direction without any context. Just telling someone to be smart doesn't help us achieve intelligence beyond the limits of whatever the world gave us upon birth.

So, instead of just telling you to be smart, and regardless of where you fall on the COVID-19 seriousness spectrum, here's what needs to happen for travel to return:

Listen to the experts

Pay attention to guidance from medical professionals, not the guy on your neighborhood Facebook group who was an emergency responder 20 years ago.

Avoid high-risk situations

Decline that indoor party or the sporting event where your fellow fans will be screaming without masks. It's still best to stick to wide-open, outdoor spaces as much as possible, where it's easier to stay six feet apart from others.

Take responsibility

If you have symptoms or know you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, get tested and stay isolated.

According to the most recent guidance from the CDC, you can now quarantine for 10 days if you experiences no symptoms, and the quarantine period could be as short as one week if you have no symptoms and get a negative COVID-19 test collected and tested within 48 hours of the “planned quarantine discontinuation.”

Whatever you do, don't board a plane if you've tested positive for COVID-19. Not only is that completely reckless and could put people's lives at risk, but also you can go to jail.

Wear a mask

No, I don't care which side of the political spectrum you're on. Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose, doesn't have holes or vents and isn't an undergarment.

Plan for the worst

Have a back-up plan in place in the event you test positive, or begin feeling ill, during a trip. This can and does happen, so you need to know where you'll quarantine and what your credit card or insurer will cover in the event you get sick. Even if an illness doesn't interrupt your travel plans, the constantly changing rules and regulations could — so now is not the time to leave anything to chance.

Related: TPG’s comprehensive guide to independent travel insurance — including coronavirus coverage

What airlines are doing — and what they could do better

In the U.S., each of the major airlines have introduced their own set of rules for travel in an effort to make the flying experience safer for passengers and crew alike. At this point, most airlines have introduced enhanced cleaning procedures and require passengers to wear face masks for the duration of their flight.

Before even arriving at the airport, many airlines require passengers to fill out a health declaration that they haven't recently been symptomatic or tested positive for the virus. But there's no way for the airline or officials to enforce that and know if each person tells the truth. And the punishment? In most cases, the passenger would be banned from flying the airline again.

In December, a passenger passed away on board a United Airlines flight. The passenger submitted a health declaration that he had not been diagnosed with COVID-19 and had no symptoms. However, the coroner's report listed the man's cause of death as "acute respiratory failure, COVID-19."

So, could airlines do more to help protect passengers and crew?

Some airlines ask flight attendants to look out for symptomatic passengers, but according to reporting from the LA Times, airline representatives say they can't screen every passenger for all symptoms of the virus.

Passenger rights advocates, flight attendant unions and academics are pushing for the U.S. Department of Transportation to introduce standards for airline safety, including the introduction of steep fines for those who don't wear masks. Additionally, the groups are pushing on the DOT to invest more heavily in contact tracing efforts in order to more accurately monitor who may have been exposed before boarding a flight.

Despite knowing what is right, some people will still travel — as has been evidenced by multiple scenarios over the past few months. It's for that reason that some experts say that airlines should do more to look out for symptomatic passengers and forbid them from flying.

Related: We shouldn’t have to tell you this, but please don’t travel if you have COVID-19

Bottom line

The couple that decided to travel knowing they had just tested positive for COVID-19 is just one example of why the coronavirus pandemic is only worsening. People need to stop being selfish, and instead make uncomfortable choices that can help keep everyone safe,.

If you want travel to return (and if you're reading this, you probably do), then be responsible enough to recognize the effects of your actions on the greater good. But, should airlines be required to play a bigger part in enforcing rules that forbid sick passengers from flying?

In his book "The Constitution of Liberty, " F.A. Hayek wrote, "Liberty and responsibility are inseparable." So, if you want to travel freely about the cabin without a mask or fear of infection, be responsible — and hold your fellow citizens to a higher standard.

Additional reporting by Emily McNutt

Featured image by (Photo by CRAFT/Twenty20)

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023