Major U.S. airlines on Friday said they would adopt a voluntary international contact tracing program, months after the White House under then-President Donald Trump blocked a mandatory effort.
American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and other major airlines said they had committed to collecting contact tracing data from passengers traveling into the United States and to relaying that data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) if travelers provide information.
In August, Trump officials rejected an effort to require airlines to collect contact tracing information from U.S.-bound international passengers after some senior administration officials cited privacy concerns.
Major airlines and administration officials had held talks for months over a long-standing CDC effort to mandate the collection and reporting of tracing information from international passengers.
In February 2020, the CDC issued an interim final rule to require airlines to collect five contact data elements from international passengers, including phone numbers, and electronically submit them to Customs and Border Protection to facilitate contact tracing. But the rule was never enforced.
Airlines protested, arguing they could not provide such information, especially from passengers booking tickets through third-party websites. Airlines backed setting up a website and a mobile application for passengers to send contact information directly to the CDC.
Nick Calio, who heads airline trade association Airlines for America, said airlines were hopeful the voluntary effort and COVID-19 international passenger testing requirements adopted last month by the CDC “will lead policymakers to lift travel restrictions.”
President Joe Biden in January reimposed an entry ban on nearly all non-U.S. travelers who have recently been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders that Trump had sought to end – and quickly added South Africa to the list.
There is no immediate indication the CDC will move quickly to drop those restrictions, some of which have been in place for almost a year.