Airports are doing everything possible to get people back in the air and one major component is testing for COVID-19. A handful of airports across the country are now offering tests for passengers.
It's no secret that the global pandemic has turned the travel and airline industry upside down. The Airport Council International North America is known as the "voice of airports."
“I look at airports, at cities within cities and anything that would affect the city would affect the airport and that’s what we do,” says CEO Kevin Burke.
“Testing is that key that unlocks travel,” he added.
Tampa International Airport was the first to jump on board with a program that was the first-of-its-kind in the nation. They offer both the PCR and rapid tests to anyone with proof of travel.
“We’ve tested more than 4,100 passengers. It's gained in popularity. Passengers know we’re providing the testing at the airport and I will tell you before they open at 7:30 every morning, there’s 20 plus passengers waiting in line," says John Tiliacos, executive VP of airport operations.
He said they launched the program in early October in hopes of instilling confidence and encouraging travel.
"Given the environment we’re in with this pandemic, we’ve got to do everything we can as an industry both airline or airport industry. We’ve got to do everything we can to breathe life back into this industry and get it back up on its feet and running again,” Tiliacos said.
Since then, they've fielded calls from other airports inquiring about the program. If a passenger gets a negative test, they go on about their day. But, if it's positive, ACI-NA says, it's not the airports' responsibility to escort the passenger out.
“They’ve gotten very few passengers that have tested positive but they’ve had a couple and they can’t proceed past that because TSA is not going to let them through a checkpoint with a positive read," said Burke.
While an increase in testing is a good thing, doctors advise that it's not a guarantee by any means.
“This test isn’t an insurance policy for the rest of the week, the rest of the month or the rest of your life, it tells you what your status is right now,” says Dr. Beth Thielen, an infectious disease physician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
“For example, if you went to a bar the night before you flew and you were around 100 people without masks, you potentially could be infected, but if you take a test at the airport the next day, you may very well test negative and a week down the road, you may develop symptoms and be capable of spreading COVID,” says Dr. Thielen.
But she also says this program is a start, and it helps people make better decisions about what they're doing and where they're going. ACI-NA says testing, masks, social distancing, hand washing and cleaning all play an important role in getting people back on board.
"If our industry is going to survive and thrive when a vaccine is there and people come back to travel, we have to take the steps now to make people comfortable not only now but in the future when they’re booking future travel,” said Burke.
While airlines are trying to instill confidence in air travel, many public health experts are advising against traveling as coronavirus cases spike throughout the US.
Earlier this week, The CDC recommended Americans not travel for Thanksgiving during the current spike in coronavirus cases nationwide.
“As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reads. “Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
The CDC recommends those who travel to follow all of their guidance for slowing the spread of coronavirus: wear a mask, wash hands, social distance, get the flu shot, and bring extra masks and hand sanitizer.