Paine Field near Seattle among the first US airports to start screening flyers for fevers

Apr 29, 2020

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Paine Field near Seattle is among the first airports in the U.S. to check the temperatures of all departing travelers for fevers as the country begins to look at how life can return to normal after the coronavirus pandemic.

The airport is checking the body temperature of travelers with a thermal camera prior to entering the security checkpoint, Paine Field (PAE) terminal operator Propeller Airports said Wednesday. Anyone with a fever will be pulled for a secondary health screening with the passenger and airline determining whether they can fly.

The body temperature check comes as people across the country ask what it will take for travel to return to normal. Public health officials credit social distancing and shelter-at-home orders that cover the majority of Americans for slowing the spread of COVID-19. However, to begin flying again people will be forced back into confined spaces, notably the fuselage of a jet, for extended periods.

Get Coronavirus travel updates. Stay on top of industry impacts, flight cancellations, and more.

Many expect fears of the virus to put a damper on travel demand for sometime after restrictions begin to lift. A recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) survey found that at least 40% of would-be travelers will wait at least six months before they get on a flight again.

Airlines are already throwing out ideas to allay travelers fears. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastan has said passengers may need so-called “immunity passports” that verify their health status to travel in the future. At Southwest Airlines, CEO Gary Kelly has said the carrier may artificially cap the number of seats it sells on any given flight below capacity to allow for social distancing.

“We are thinking that perhaps we won’t take bookings that will fill up an airplane,” said Kelly. “That would be a logical way to address social distancing on an airplane.”

Related: Southwest considers selling fewer seats to allow for social distancing

Airports, however, will be the front lines for stopping the spread of the coronavirus on flights. Temperature screenings, which are common for arriving travelers in many Asian countries, could become a norm before travelers even get to the gate.

“Since opening, we have been committed to staying on the forefront of trends and innovations to provide the best possible experience to our passengers,” said Propeller Airports CEO Brett Smith in a statement. “The use of this system will allow us to maintain the seamless, safe and modern travel experience our customers have come to expect.”

It is unclear how the checks are scalable to larger airports. Commercial passenger service to Paine Field only resumed a year ago and with only 24 daily flights. The airport’s two airlines, Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, are only scheduled to operate up to six daily departures through May, according to Cirium schedules.

At least one U.S. airline is doing temperature screenings on a broader scale. American Airlines is trialing checks for staff on departing flights at its hubs in Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Miami (MIA), Philadelphia (PHL) and Phoenix (PHX), American spokesperson Ross Feinstein told TPG.

Related: Airlines add new rules as call for masks on planes gets louder


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Paine Field ticketing lobby (opened 2019), by Fentress Architects. #airportarchitecture

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Featured image by Edward Russell/TPG.

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