Between overpriced taxi rides, overweight bags, TSA checkpoints, and unpredictable delays, the passenger experience at airports is far from convenient. For passengers flying out of Los Angeles, temperature screenings have been added to the list of pre-boarding obstacles. These may soon be coming to your local airport, too.
The Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), in collaboration with the CDC and Los Angeles County’s Public Health Department, will be launching a pilot program at LAX to screen passengers for high fevers — a known COVID-19 symptom indicator — upon arrival and departure. This will be done via a thermal imaging camera that will alert security officials when a passenger’s temperature exceeds 100.4 degrees, the CDC’s standard for a high fever.
Thermal camera technology can reveal personal and private health issues that are completely unrelated to contagious viruses.
If a camera detects a high fever, the passenger is then requested to take a secondary non-contact thermometer test from an onsite medical professional. Passengers who test for a high fever twice are “advised” to postpone their departure. It is not required that they postpone or cancel their travel, however.
While this enhanced screening is only being implemented at LAX, for now, the results of this pilot study will be shared with the TSA and CDC. A TSA spokesperson tweeted that the agency is monitoring the study but has “no direct role.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s website states that the TSA is one of the multiple partners with which “the airport will work closely.”
In his Monday morning press conference in LAX’s international terminal, Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “This is a voluntary program with signage alerting passengers where the pilot will take place.” Currently, thermal cameras are only being used in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which ranks second in most international flights of any American airport. Thermal cameras have yet to make their way to LAX’s domestic terminals. The press conference did not mention any plans of contact tracing or on-site COVID-19 testing for ill passengers.
Temperature screening has faced criticism from the ACLU in regard to the privacy, accuracy, and surveillance concerns of airport temperature screening programs. The ACLU voiced concerns that “this crisis threatens to normalize such physiological surveillance, with the result that even after a vaccine is distributed and COVID-19 retreats as a public health threat, new infrastructures for the routine and suspicionless collection of such data will remain.” There is yet to be any mention of a proposed sunset date for this program. The ACLU also said thermal camera technology can reveal personal and private health issues that are completely unrelated to contagious viruses.
The announcement of this enhanced screening comes one week after the Los Angeles Times published an article linking numerous COVID-19 cases to passengers who flew into LAX.
The program is set to start in late June. While this pilot test is voluntary and only in Los Angeles today, the message from this morning’s press conference, as well as the federal involvement in this experiment, suggests that passenger temperature screening may soon be coming to an airport near you.
Correction, June 23, 2020: A previous version of this piece said the TSA is participating in the pilot program. The TSA is “working closely” with LAX, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti, monitoring the study, and planning to review the results. We regret the error, and we have updated the post. –Ed.
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