“Should or should we not, follow the advice of the galactically stupid?” Tom Cruise as Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee in ‘A Few Good Men.’

Since Congress is going back anyway, let’s ask them to take a few minutes and kill the Healthy Skies Act, sponsored by Reps. Ted Budd, R-NC, Ralph Norman, R-SC, and John Larson, D-Conn, before it gets you killed. Don’t let the name fool you. This law won’t make the skies healthier and, in fact, makes you less safe. How so? Let me count the ways:

  • First, quit calling this a “security measure.” It does NOTHING for security. In the history of aviation security nobody ever endangered a flight by threatening to cough on everybody.
  • This is public health theater. It looks good on the surface but has no substance. It’s like leaving the porch light on, but once a thief looks in the window, the jig is up. 
  • TSA was created for the security of transportation, not public health, and is not trained in public health. This is like asking the police to respond to a home invasion, and in the middle of the shootout, would they please inspect the house and recommend fire protection measures to the homeowner.
  • This opens up Pandora’s box. It will allow other agencies with needs or desires to test or inspect passengers for whatever reason to ask TSA to do it.
  • This additional duty will cause TSA personnel to hit cognitive overload sooner, thus reducing their job effectiveness as their shift goes on.
  • How do you get a medical waiver? Remember, ADA requires public accommodation, which includes nearly 60 million American’s. Do I need a note from my overworked doctor who is busy dealing with COVID cases, to say it’s okay for me to fly? 
  • This country’s enemies are still watching us – looking for vulnerabilities, and from their perspective, what better time to hit us than when we’re down? Now is not the time to reduce our security effectiveness. It was just four years ago there were two airport assault incidents and two airliner bombings.
  • The aviation industry is furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers, and sadly, some of them may retaliate against their employer. Now is not the time to divert from our security awareness; now is the time to increase it!
  • How will passengers get reimbursed for their flights? Will they need a note from a TSO to give to the airline ticket agent? What could possibly go wrong with that process?
  • The more non-security responsibilities we add to security personnel, the less focused they are on security. You remember security, don’t you? The reason the TSA was created in the first place. Oh, I think I said that already – well, maybe you forgot. Our lawmakers certainly did.
  • You’re putting more TSOs at risk, by increasing the time they spend near the traveling public, which increases the spread of the virus, and, compromises security with more TSO’s calling in sick.
  • You’re putting lives in danger; more people will be at risk due to lines and more crowds. Active shooters and suicide bombers love nothing more than a big group that can’t go anyplace in a hurry.
  • How much earlier do we have to start getting to the airport now, four hours, five hours, the day before? Is there going to be a form of public health PreCheck?
  • According to the CDC, it doesn’t work.
  • TSO’s aren’t public health officials (did I mention that already?)
  • There are plenty of reasons people could have a fever besides COVID. And I know they say there will be exceptions for pre-existing conditions and other special circumstances, but who will manage that cumbersome bureaucratic process, and what will it involve?
  • It’s easy to defeat the measure. You can mask a fever by taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You can hold a cold compress over your head for a few minutes (hiding it under a hat).
  • Who will provide a secondary medical assessment if someone is determined to have a fever, to ensure they aren’t denied boarding due to some other reason? People like me, who have non-contagious pre-existing medical conditions, could continuously be denied travel based on a thermometer.
  • Temperatures have been checked at customs and immigration checkpoints. However, there are fewer international flights per day into most US airports than domestic, and the customs areas are usually harder to access than the public area of an airport. Plus, there is more time for the inspection process.

What should we do?

  • Use remote sensing technology (plenty of manufacturers out there now) to establish areas to perform temperature checks as people regularly pass through. And you don’t have to grab everyone. Do random assessments and assessments on people that look sick. You will still need to develop procedures for vetting someone who presents a fever to get their money refunded from the airlines).
  • Wear your mask; take bleach wipes with you; take sanitizer with you; wash your hands, and don’t take your damn shoes off on the airplane. It’s not your living room.
  • If you’re immunocompromised (like me), or elderly (not quite like me but I’m gunning for it), take extra precautions.
  • Although this bill has bipartisan support, that doesn’t mean it’s a terrible idea. It’s one of the worst ideas ever. It’s horrible!
  • When the airlines need passengers the most, this makes commercial air travel even less convenient, less secure, and less safe.
  • Realize the coronavirus is never going away. We can’t stay in quarantine and keep taking these measures forever. Let’s do our best to play defense until a vaccine is discovered, but even then, we’re always going to be at risk – of this and a thousand other things that can kill you when you step out your door.

And in summary, your honor…

Having TSA take passenger temperatures is one of those ideas that sounds like an easy solution to a complex problem. But complex problems require complex, well thought out, solutions; otherwise, we would have figured it out by now. This will be one more useless and expensive hoop for the public to jump through as we are fooling ourselves into another false sense of safety.

The Healthy Skies Act is not just an inconvenience for the passenger; it’s going to cause more work for airport and airline personnel, emergency medical providers, physicians, and many others. That’s fine if it’s for a process that prevents the spread of COVID, but not just for “public health theater.”

By Jeffrey C. Price, lead-author, Practical Aviation Security: Predicting and Preventing Future Threats.


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