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United Airlines Adds A Step To Check-In: Stating You Don't Have COVID-19 Symptoms

United Airlines will now require passengers to review a health assessment before boarding.
United Airlines will now require passengers to review a health assessment before boarding.

United Airlines will now require passengers to complete a "health self-assessment" as part of its check-in process. It's the latest effort by a U.S. airline to assure passengers that it's safe to fly as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

The airline's "Ready-to-Fly" checklist does not involve temperature checks or diagnostic testing for the virus. Instead, travelers must review the checklist when checking in online and click "Accept," or confirm it verbally to a gate agent — similar to how passengers must affirm they're not bringing explosives or banned materials on board.

Here's what's on United's checklist before boarding:

  • A reminder you must wear a face mask while on board
  • A list of common COVID-19 symptoms, and a declaration that you have not experienced them in the last 14 days
  • You have not been denied boarding by another airline due to a medical screening in the last 14 days
  • You have not had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days
  • "If anyone does not meet these criteria, we ask that you reschedule your trip," it says, and directs you to rebook your flight.

    United's Corporate Medical Director Pat Baylis said in statement that the wellness checklist "sets clear guidelines on health requirements for our customers and helps minimize the risk of exposure during the travel experience."

    The airline says the checklist was developed according to guidance from the Cleveland Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization. The CDC says it's not clear whether one type of travel is safer than another, but that travel in general increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19.

    Here's how the CDC summarizes the risks of air travel:

    "Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and you may have to sit near others (within 6 feet), sometimes for hours. This may increase your risk for exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19."

    Since June 1, Frontier Airlines has been conducting temperature screenings on all passengers and crew members using touchless thermometers prior to boarding. Customers running a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher are not permitted to fly. As we've reported previously, temperature screenings are an imperfect method – one large study in New York found that only 30% of people hospitalized for the virus had a fever.

    The number of people flying in the U.S. cratered when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March, and has remained low. On Tuesday, the number of flyers being screened at TSA checkpoints was less than 14% of what it was on the same weekday a year earlier.

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.