Southwest CEO urges TSA to add temperature scans to screening checks

May 6, 2020

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Will travelers soon have to submit to a temperature check in addition to emptying their your pockets before going through screening at U.S. airport security checkpoints?

That’s what at least one prominent airline CEO would like to see.

“We’re urging the TSA … to begin temperature scans as part of the screening process at the checkpoints,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said morning during a Wednesday morning interview with “CBS This Morning.”

Kelly appeared on the network morning to highlight safety updates the carrier has made in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. It was part of a broader message to reassure passengers that it’ll be safe to return to the skies. With demand currently at near-zero in the U.S. and elsewhere, that’s something Southwest and other airlines will need to have happen if they’re to staunch the financial carnage hitting carriers across the globe.

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As the CEO of the nation’s top carrier of domestic travelers, Kelly’s words come with influence. And he’s not the only prominent airline CEO to say health screenings could become part of the flying experience in the wake of coronavirus.

“We will make whatever changes to the business model that will be necessary,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in late April, suggesting that what he called “immunity passports” could be a requirement for travelers.

He continued: “Could there be a new public health agency coming out that requires a new passport to travel? I don’t know but we’ll be on the forefront of all those advances.”

While the industry figures out what’s next on the health front, Southwest’s Kelly took the opportunity of Wednesday’s interview to say what his carrier has been doing so far.

More: Delta CEO raises prospect of ‘immunity passports’ for air travel

Kelly said Southwest is installing plexiglass shields at check-in counters and noted flyers will see that at TSA checkpoints, too.

Kelly also said the airline has increased efforts to disinfect and clean planes, though he acknowledged that effort only goes so far if sick passengers board a plane.

“That’s why I think leading up to that — wash your hands, don’t come to the airport if you’re sick. Let’s do temperature screening,” he said to CBS. “Ultimately, obviously, the solution is to have testing, therapeutics, a vaccine.”

More: Which US airlines are blocking middle seats, requiring masks?

Additionally, Southwest – like Delta and Alaska airlines – is capping ticket sales so that planes don’t fly full. That will help passengers social distance by ensuring there are enough empty seats to go around.

But, even there, he noted that’s not a perfect solution either, instead telling CBS that a “multi-layered approach” is needed.

“We’ll have wipes on the airplane that each customer can take,” Kelly said. “Requiring masks on the airplane are important because you won’t necessarily all be six feet apart.”

What’s next? Flying after coronavirus: Health screenings in airports and emptier planes

More practically, he also acknowledged Southwest can’t cap ticket sales forever.

“Our breakeven load factor was somewhere in the 60-70% range. … Can we do that indefinitely? No.”

Featured photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

More: With 95% of flyers grounded, what it’s like flying in the U.S. right now?

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