US Airlines Pledge To Offer Refunds If You Have A Fever (With A Catch)

Filed Under: Travel

US airlines are pledging to offer flight refunds if you have a fever… but only if the TSA starts doing temperature checks on passengers.

Airlines want passenger temperature screenings

The US airline industry wants the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to start administering temperature checks on passengers as they go through security checkpoints. This is a practice that we’ve seen all over the world (in particular in many parts of Asia) for years, but that hasn’t been implemented in the US up until now.

While this is something airline executives want, it’s questionable if it will actually happen. Airline CEOs met with Vice President Mike Pence last Friday to request this (among other things), though apparently didn’t get a commitment.

While I’m no doctor or scientist, to me it seems logical enough to add temperature checks at security checkpoints, even beyond the coronavirus pandemic. I say that as someone who usually has little faith in the TSA.

Before I share why I feel that way, let me acknowledge that:

  • Just because someone has a temperature doesn’t mean they have coronavirus, and conversely, just because someone has coronavirus doesn’t mean they have a temperature
  • The machines aren’t going to catch everyone who has an elevated temperature, as the machines may have issues, or the people operating the machines may miss some people
  • The Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee has said that he “cannot find any law that gives TSA the authority to perform temperature checks”

Even so, the concept of taking passengers’ temperatures generally makes sense to me. Isn’t fewer people with elevated temperatures flying a good thing? I understand it’s not the perfect solution, but this seems to me like one of those situations where something is better than nothing.

Airlines pledge to offer refunds to those with fevers

One big question about these temperature checks has revolved around what happens in the event that you’re found to have an elevated temperature.

Today Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization representing major US airlines, has announced that member airlines will voluntarily pledge to refund tickets for any passenger found to have an elevated temperature during a screening process conducted by federal authorities prior to travel.

A few things come to mind based on this:

  • This commitment is contingent upon the TSA performing these temperature checks, and it’s far from a sure thing that this will happen; in the meantime you’re not getting a refund for an elevated temperature
  • Most major airlines are offering flexible cancelation policies, so hopefully airlines would offer actual cash refunds, rather than future ticket credits (which aren’t refunds)
  • I can’t help but think that the next travel hack for those looking for a refund will be trying to figure out how to fake a high temperature

And then there’s the biggest concern I have — this policy would be encouraging passengers to show up at the airport with a temperature if they’re looking for a refund. While I think the above policy makes sense, this should be in addition to being able to get a refund if you can somehow otherwise prove you have a fever. After all, the most responsible thing is to check your temperature before leaving home, and then not going to the airport if you have a fever.

In other words, airlines shouldn’t be telling people they have to prove that they’re sick at the actual airport in order to get a refund.

Bottom line

Airlines are pledging to offer refunds to passengers with fevers, assuming that federal temperature checks are introduced at airports.

Personally I’m in favor of airport temperature checks, and I appreciate the assurance airlines are offering to those with elevated temperatures. However, there should also be a way to get a refund if you have a fever without actually showing up at the airport.

What do you make of the concept of the TSA performing temperature checks on passengers?

  1. During a state of emergency, which has been declared for Covid, the government has pretty broad powers to do what is necessary to contain the threat, whether that threat is terrorism, a natural disaster, a pandemic, or something else. There is almost no limit to reasonable steps they are allowed to do when mitigating an emergency, and honestly even unreasonable steps are often upheld as constitutional. My point is, of course the government (via the TSA in this case) has the right to require temperature checks, which is a very minor interference, to help contain a global health crisis. If someone says “there is no law that allows me to do that” then they are trying to pass the buck and not take action, they absolutely can do that and it’s pretty easy to justify, they just don’t want to.

  2. This is great but with UA and DL both ending their change fee waivers tomorrow (AAs sort of extends through September although not as generous as it has been) my fear is folks will still fly to save some money rather than reschedule.

  3. This could get complicated quickly. Sure, AA, UA, DL and the other big American airlines can say that, but since it’s voluntary, what happens when you have an BA-issued ticket with an initial flight on American, say, IND-JFK-LHR, and the TSA denies you passage in IND? Or a TK-issued Award ticket for DEN-HNL on UA — is TK actually going to refund you those miles and taxes? Why would United go out of their way to urge that?

    Short of regulating refunds through the DoT, there will be cases that fall through the cracks, where the TSA denies passage, and then the airlines play a game of customer ‘service’ hot potato. For this reason, I far prefer Gary Leff’s take on this issue: let airlines themselves do temperature monitoring, and have them directly deal with denied boarding customer service issues.

  4. Looks promising on paper, will likely fail miserably in reality, just like the Italian overhead bins.

    What TSA and airlines need to do is take a step further. Once you do get flagged on temparature, you get on the NOFLY list for 14 days. (yes, screw those freedom crap of each state, this is federal now)

    Well, if it does go at federal level, let’s hope DOT or FAA has the balls to join in. They would likely ask for cooperation from BA or TK. Risk of not following can be a flight ban. I’m sure BA still wants to fly into JFK.

  5. @gdl the ticketing carrier. If you have. BA ticket with one AA sector , the latter cant refund anything.

    If you are unwell , claim from your insurance. There’s absolutely no legal obligation. Otherwise it will be an expectation so there’s no point being flexible fares
    If the flight’s cancelled then you may have a refund

  6. Agree with @RCB. If there was a will to do it it could be done easily. I doubt there would even be a legal challenge to it.

  7. I guess the policy begs the question, what happens when you have a fever and you are away from home? Are you stuck in a hotel for 14 days or do you have to pass a COVID test before you can fly? The flight refund is the least of it! Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to get my money back but the cost of a fever, with or without the virus, could be extreme. All these policies, which seem to be helpful, just serve to drive away passengers and hurt every aspect of the economy, not just the travel industry. At some point, you have to rip off the bandaid and move on with reasonable measures like social distancing and mask wearing and hope for the best. Air travel is going to continue to be risky for the coming months. No amount of countermeasures will make it safe. For every fever you catch at a TSA checkpoint, there will be dozens of people who move through with active virus.

  8. Might as well add checks for alcohol and drug use. Would help reduce some of the on flight issues that occur.

    Then add weigh-ins and assign people to various width seats and charge them appropriately 🙂

  9. @The Original Donna

    “What happens when you have a fever and you are away from home?”
    You stay quarantined, away from home.
    Being quarantined IS a risk from travelling that people needs to understand and FACTOR IN BEFORE making travel plans.

    Please don’t be a “Karen” and think I need to do what ever it takes to get home at the expense of innocent people along the way.
    We all know the risk of flying right now and likely in the future. Please don’t make the risk higher than it needs to be by being selfish and trying to get home.

    “No amount of countermeasures will make it safe.”
    I agree but that doesn’t mean because it is not 100% safe rather than we make it 90% safe, we’ll just settle with 0% safe.

    And please don’t use the economy as an excuse, we all got hit by it, myself including.
    What you should be blaming is the leadership and their ineffective measures.
    From what I see, After months of lock down, the end of June doesn’t look much different than the beginning of March. We just lost 4 months to ineffective policies.

  10. @Eskimo There are a lot of issues with a prohibition on flying for fourteen days after being flagged for having a fever.

    1. It has been shown that the devices used to detect a fever at an airport is not accurate in many instances. It is problematic that if the device has an error, the passenger is stuck for two weeks.

    2. The TSA has been known to have many issues for competence. It would not surprise me for the TSA to be involved in mistakes that misdiagnose fevers.

    3. As Lucky has pointed out, there are many instances where a fever is not COVID-19. For many of these instances, a passenger should be able to fly again within fourteen days.

    Your proposal is very scary and seems like a nightmare, as it makes a weekend trip bring about the potential for being stranded for two weeks even in instances when one does not have the virus.

  11. @guflyer

    I’m with you on this. Like I said at the start of my post
    “Looks promising on paper, will likely fail miserably in reality”

    But that doesn’t mean this “very scary and seems like a nightmare” isn’t effective. Look at the numbers in Asia.

    “it makes a weekend trip bring about the potential for being stranded for two weeks”
    Just like what I replied (probably when you are typing yours)
    **Being quarantined IS a risk from travelling that people needs to understand and FACTOR IN BEFORE making travel plans.**
    If you can’t accept the risk of two weeks, DON’T TRAVEL.
    And don’t take it the wrong way, think of it as before all this virus mess, if you can’t get a passport to fly in 24 hours, don’t book your international trip leaving tomorrow, period.

  12. First of all I agree with taking temperatures (I’ve had them taken at casinos and other locations since the lock down ended). I realize people that are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic can pass along the infection but eliminating people that are obviously sick (with COVID or anything else) is a good move.

    Now with respect to the refunds a couple of comments:

    1. Even if they give cash refunds how about if a family is traveling together and one person has a fever is the entire group getting refunds or only the sick person (which would either mean leaving someone behind or not getting refunds).
    2. So the airline gives you a refund but you wouldn’t get one from a hotel or other things you may have booked related to the trip.

    Again, I’m in favor of this but I’m sure there will be a lot of whining when either of the situations above comes up.

  13. @Eskimo. I had COVID in February, so you have one less “Karen” to worry about if you’re seated next to me on a future flight. I had no symptoms so temperature checks would have been useless in my case. If you can’t risk getting sick, do not travel.

  14. What if someone is, say, hyperthyroid and has “a temperature” all the time? Will they ever be allowed to fly?

  15. @The Original Donna

    Please don’t take this personally but the more you post the more you ARE like a “Karen”.
    There is no current scientific proof that once you had COVID you are immune and will never get it again. So even I’m seated next to you, my risk factor doesn’t change at all. LOL, maybe my risk factor is even higher because you think you are immune and make riskier choices like going to a packed bar crawl in Florida.

    As much as you think I have one less “Karen” to worry about, I’m actually sure we have one extra “Karen” to worry about flying around at large.

    For the temperature check, I agree it is not 100% effective. You could take medication to lower your fever. But if this test can filter out 5% of the travelers, my odds of getting infected will also decrease too.
    Like I said before, even if it isn’t 100% I still prefer 90% over 0%.

  16. The biggest secret: The TSA is directly responsible for the spread of coronavirus in America. If you look at infection maps, a lot of states are switching to reporting to county instead of zip code. Because if you actually look at the zip code data, you’ll see the hardest hit COVID communities are the Latinos and black Americans that work within close proximity to international airports. And there’s no one in closer contact to them than TSA employees. They get sick, spread it to each other, bring it back to their community, and end up killing all the elderly minorities. That’s how COVID is reaching elderly minorities through TSA employees.

  17. Anyone think that airlines might make passenger sign liability waivers (or bury a waiver in the conditions of carriage?)

    Or if airports might have signs like this: “An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. By entering the terminal, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”

  18. @Lucky, the machines that check temperatures are automated (unless someone is using a temp gun, but that’s not what is being installed at US airports). Someone monitors a display that will show them anyone who shows up as having a temp abnormality and then they can be screened further. People can’t be missed by the operator. The cameras will catch anyone who passes them as long as there is full coverage of the space.

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