On Monday, New York’s JFK airport opened the country’s first airport-based COVID-19 testing facility. Also, starting this week, passengers arriving at nearby Albany International Airport will have to fill in forms to determine their risk status and the potential need to quarantine. As there is no national approach to testing at airports or when flying, airlines and airports are free to make up their own regulations. The result is differing levels of testing across the US.
Track and trace forms
Two New York airports are stepping up COVID-19 tracking measures as the state looks to enter Phase 4 of reopening. Albany International Airport will now require all passengers to fill in a state health questionnaire on arrival. The state’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory and the Traveler Health Form is now being given to all passengers.
State health officials collect each form at the airport, and passengers from states with a high rate of infection must quarantine for 14 days. Passengers must give contact information for any follow-up and most be able to cover the cost of accommodation to isolate for two weeks.
New York has identified Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah as high-risk states. Anyone traveling from these states to New York must enter quarantine. So far, it’s unclear how successful the forms are in helping to track and trace the virus. Currently, filling out the forms is voluntary, so no penalty will be given to passengers that refuse.
The US’s first airport testing site
New York’s other main airport, JFK international, is also stepping up its COVID-19 facilities by opening the first airport-based testing site. Situated in Terminal 4, the XpresCheck COVID-19 pilot program will be able to perform up to 500 tests per day. There are nine individual testing rooms and was built by airport concessionaire XpresSpa.
Currently, the new testing facility is only open to airport workers and airline employees. The testing booth aims to protect staff and passengers by identifying cases among staff early on. As travel restrictions lift, anyone working in the industry is now coming into contact with thousands of people every day, and airport employees risk becoming super-spreaders if not identified.
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Still no coordinated approach
Albany Airport isn’t the only US airport requiring a form upon arrival, Honolulu airport in Hawaii requires contact information, temperature checks, and face coverings. Only one airline is enforcing temperature checks before boarding; Frontier Airlines. Passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport were seen removing face masks after going through security.
Many traveling within the US right now are frustrated by the lack of consistency across airports and airlines. Each is free to set its own rules and restrictions. The result is that flying inter-state may require several different levels of protection. Another issue arises when airlines and airports try to enforce their new rules. With no federal backing, the airlines have no legal support to force passengers off flights or to wear masks.
While many are calling for President Trump to create a national system and standardize airport and airline regulations, he seems reluctant to do so. There is such a massive variety in the number of cases per state that blanket regulations may not work.
Passengers traveling to or within the US should be prepared, at least for the foreseeable future, to adapt to varying policies. Travelers may or may not need a mask, be required to quarantine, need to fill out a form, have their temperature checked, or go for testing.
Have you traveled to the US recently? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Did you have to get a temperature check or fill out a form? Let us know.