United Airlines’ New Check-In Health Self-Assessment

Filed Under: United

United Airlines has today become the first of the “big three” US airlines to require passengers to complete a health self-assessment during the check-in process.

United Airlines’ new health checklist

As of today, United Airlines customers will have to complete a health self-assessment during the check-in process. This is based on guidance from the Cleveland Clinic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. This will ask customers to confirm that they haven’t experienced any COVID-19 related symptoms in the 14 days prior to flying.

Customers checking in through the United mobile app, united.com, or through a United kiosk, will have to click “Accept” to indicate that they have reviewed the checklist. Customers checking in with an agent will need to provide verbal acknowledgement after reviewing the checklist.

This new checklist includes the following:

  • You must wear a face covering while on board for the safety of everyone
  • You have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 21 days, and have not experienced any of the following symptoms in the past 14 days (excludes symptoms from a pre-existing condition):
    • Temperature of 38 C/100.4 F or higher
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
    • Chills
    • Muscle pain
    • Sore throat
    • Recent loss of taste or smell
  • You have not been denied boarding by another airline due to a medical screening for a communicable disease in the last 14 days
  • You have not had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days

What happens if you can’t agree to these requirements?

United Airlines customers who are not able to confirm these requirements and choose not to travel will be able to reschedule their flight. United says that “customers may also choose to check-in at the airport for further review,” though no further information is given as to what that would look like.

Security theater, or useful?

For years when checking in for flights in many regions we’ve been asked whether we’ve packed our own bags, whether our bags have been in our sight the entire time, etc. I’ve always viewed that as being security theater, so how does this compare?

I have conflicting thoughts:

  • This is useful if we assume that people both read the acknowledgement and also aren’t aware of the symptoms of COVID-19
  • Presumably if people were aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 and still showed up for their flight, they have no problem endangering others, and also would be willing to lie during check-in
  • I have questions about aspects of the list, like having to acknowledge you don’t have muscle pain; if you have muscle pain from a workout, it sounds like you technically shouldn’t be allowed to fly (though I’m guessing most people would focus on the intent rather than the exact details of the form)
  • Given the controversy surrounding wearing masks on a plane, perhaps it’s smart to get people to acknowledge that they’ll abide by that requirement

Bottom line

While United Airlines isn’t the first US airline to have a health acknowledgement form, they are the first of the “big three.” Expect that you’ll be asked to acknowledge these terms during check-in, and if you aren’t able to do so, you may not be allowed to fly.

Do you view this health acknowledgement form as pure theater, or as potentially useful?

  1. I could see this working in a high-trust country, like Japan or Sweden or Norway or Taiwan, but Americans are literally some of the most selfish people on the face of the Earth. If Mommy and Daddy have planned a trip to Disney World or Hawaii for months, and Little Johnny has a fever but everyone else is fine, I imagine Mommy and Daddy will just give Little Johnny a Tylenol and lie.

  2. Also, what do you mean by -Body Temperature of 38C or higher-. yo, the temperature of a person when he’s normal is 37.5C. Also, what if I have experienced any of the symptoms mentioned but I lie about it in the app. How will United confirm the authenticity of the details that I had provided? And if I am indeed sick, I could take a paracetamol an hour before departure and pass by the temperature check and given the low staff-pax interaction, I assume that many potential sick and COVID-19 carriers could make it onboard.

  3. This is some combination of health theater & legal liability CYA (theater? lawyers may know).

  4. If you can’t take your flight, just say “yes” to one or more, and then, presumably, you’ll be able to reschedule without paying United’s outrageous $200 rebooking fee.

  5. How does this identify asymptomatic individuals, who may be the biggest group of all? And the listed symptoms are found with many ailments but not always with Covid-19. This is hygiene theater and legal cya.

  6. yea… and the flight attendants are required to do the same before leaving a layover hotel…. and a temperature check at the beginning of their day in their home domicile… we’ll lie just as the pax do. 🙂

  7. Right and requesting someone wear a face mask for 3+ hours is ridiculous….and the whole face mask thing is ridiculous why? Let’s see lower it at security – touching it. Then you can eat and drink on the plane – they can’t stop you from that too so you can then take it off. Its not being enforced and I can’t see them enforcing it. Not to mention if you are going overseas 9+ hours and then what? Sleeping in one??? I highly doubt this face mask this is gonna last or will work on an airplane. The chances of you getting is slim as is on a plane.

  8. Since United would now have health related information, wouldn’t that mean that it would fall under the guidelines of HIPAA? Does this mean that United is now liable for the safe guarding of said information?

  9. @James (second post from top) +1. Absolutely spot-on.

    This is almost entirely theater. No teeth, no enforcement, so don’t expect any real compliance. You want people to take it seriously, then you need to have a live human in a uniform (maybe with a visible firearm) ask them each question in turn, while making eye contact. Maybe contract out this task to the Israeli TSA equivalent. Short of all that, this is just for show.

  10. To all of you: you guys have complained over and over and over again that UA always copied Delta. UA needs to come up with an innovation, something so it can be proud to say “we work really hard for customers”, well there it is.

  11. Barely useful.
    Utterly unenforceable without the threat of serious penalties.
    It also assumes that Covid is a deadly killer, but we will have to wait for actual peer-reviewed studies to come out in a year or so.
    Hopefully the end result is that people will wash their hands and wear masks if they are symptomatic with anything, like they do in Asia already.

  12. Out there in the construction work place our guys are wearing masks all day or they are fined $100. Not sure anyone likes it but that is the rule so they either comply or get fined. It took on set of fines to convince everyone else that they could work just fine with a mask.

  13. @Doug: No, HIPAA only applies to healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and related entities. It applies to United no more than it would apply to you after you asked someone else the same questions.

  14. I’m going to say this doesn’t work. I just checked my mother in a few hours ago and didn’t read any of the questions and just said no. I come to the blog and realized what those questions were.

  15. This seems like a “security theater” type thing regarding the virus. It reminds me of questions that airport contractors ask at many airports about whether you have packed your own bags. Perhaps this is a way for United to shield itself from liability?

    However, I am happy about this addition because it now allows anyone to reschedule any flight at the last minute without paying a change fee. If this remains once it becomes acceptable to fly again, it brings my favorite thing about Southwest (being able to book slights speculatively and cancel to reuse the credit if they don’t work) to United. Yes, one can intentionally cough when one is completely well, so that they are not being dishonest on the online check-in form.

  16. This is absolutely “health security theatre” and it will do NOTHING to put people’s mind at ease.

    By blocking a significant number of seats in all flights DL is at least is giving the impression that they are more concerned with the health of their passengers than maximizing potential revenue. I applaud DL for their leadership in this area. They understand people’s concerns about air travel these days.

  17. I just recovered from dengue fever and am travelling in the next few days. Were I travelling on United I’d have to admit to certain symptoms within the past 14 days. I wonder whether having a Dr confirm I had dengue (to which the symptoms were attributable) and answering truthfully would be better than filling out the form incorrectly. I doubt it.

  18. It might people feel safe. But will it make them safe?

    It’s just like when you download an app or update your OS – you scroll down to the bottom and confirm. In the lawyer paradise that is the US I’m looking forward to multi million dollar law suits from passengers who have suffered “mental trauma” once it turns out they were on a plane with a Covid person.

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