How airports are screening travelers for deadly new coronavirus-type disease

Jan 24, 2020

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As the deadly strain of coronavirus continues to spread, airports across the world are amping up screening.

As of Jan. 22, five U.S. airports are screening for signs of infection. This includes Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Atlanta (ATL), New York-JFK, San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX). All of these airports are popular international connection hubs. Only JFK and SFO have direct flights to and from Wuhan (WUH), although those flights have been canceled.

Numerous international airports are increasing screenings around the world.

Related: What a coronavirus outbreak means for travelers 

If you’re planning to travel internationally — especially to or from China and other cities in Asia — here’s what you can expect when going through customs.

The screening process

First, people on flights scheduled from Wuhan to non-screening U.S. airports were being redirected to one of the five airports that are conducting screenings. That means a passenger traveling from Wuhan who caught a connecting flight in Shanghai that would have landed in Boston (BOS) would have been rerouted to JFK for screening, CDC officials said.

Related: China shuts down three cities as deadly virus spreads 

That means many airlines had to reissue tickets and redirect passengers from around the world.

Currently, both United and Delta airlines have issued notices regarding passenger travel to, from and through Wuhan. United is offering travelers scheduled to travel to, through and from Wuhan between now and March 29, 2020 the chance to cancel trips for a full refund. This even applies to nonrefundable tickets. The only stipulation is that the ticket must have been purchased by Jan. 21. to travel

Delta’s notice isn’t quite as explicit as United’s. Instead, they’ve shared they are offering “flexibility” to any passenger with Wuhan on their itinerary. There is no information posted, however, about specific dates and itineraries to which this specifically applies. Passengers will have to call Delta reservations to inquire.

Regardless, travel to, through and from the city of Wuhan and two other cities in China (Huanggang and Ezhou) is shut down until further notice. Officials are working to contain the virus in an effort to stop and slow its spread.

When it comes to the screenings, CDC health officials are asking travelers about their symptoms, places they’ve visited and taking temperatures.

If a traveler is suspected of having contracted the virus, they will be transported to a predesignated facility for further screening. This could take anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day, as testing requires specimens to be collected and sent to the CDC.

“It’s unlikely [travelers] will make immediate connecting flights,” said Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s division of global migrations and quarantine in an interview with The Washington Post.

Travelers who did not display any symptoms during the screening process will be given a card with further information on what to do and who to contact if they do develop any of the symptoms.

Before travel to and from Wuhan was shut down, the screening process was intense. Passengers were required to go through electronic temperature sensors before boarding any flights according to the South China Morning Post. Anyone with a detected temperature of over 100 degrees was required to go through a manual screening and, if fever was confirmed, then they were required to spend a period of time in a quarantine facility.

Featured photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images.

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