Last week, the CEO of American Airlines, Doug Parker said that checking passengers for proof of vaccination wouldn’t be physically possible on domestic flights without causing enormous delays to the airline system.
It’s tempting to compare Mr. Parker’s statements to similar ones made by tobacco and asbestos CEOs, who insisted that health authorities should not regulate their products. What he probably should have said was,“Without some form of proof that a person is vaxxed, and streamlined airport procedures, it isn’t physically possible for domestic flights to check passengers for proof of vaccination.”
Many of the problems airlines and airports encounter involving COVID-19 could be prevented if passengers couldn’t enter either without verified vaccination credentials and a one-minute COVID antigen swab test, or a breath analyzer test at a TSA security portal.
If all passengers and airport workers were doubly protected by showing proof of vaccinations and being tested for COVID daily, much of the “fear of flying” that we are once more encountering would be removed. This would increase ticket sales and decrease cancellations considerably.
In effect, the airports and airlines would be extending the “sterile environment” they have already established for weapons and bombs to COVID-19 as well. That’s interesting, since some of the COVID breath analyzers employ technology that the TSA already uses for detecting explosives in baggage.
Imagine arriving at the airport with your baggage, flight number, and an ID—just as you do now. The airline ticket would only be issued after you submitted proof that you were fully vaxed remotely. The evidence would either consist of a photocopy of your vaccination card or, in the cases of New York and California residents, a free state-approved “vaccination passport”with a QR code that can be easily transmitted. Medical exemption would be handled on a case-by-case basis, but no one would be permitted to fly unvaxxed and unmasked. Also, by fall, children as young as three will likely be eligible for vaccinations.
You would do just what you have done for years to pass through a TSA portal, but the staff would also either swab your nose, have you spit in a tube, or analyze your breath to help ensure that you are not infected before entering the terminal and aircraft. In any case, the results would be available within 60 seconds at no cost to you.
Breath analyzers for COVID-19 are used in many nations, including Israel, India, Poland, and Singapore. The Singapore unit’s cost is already down to less than $4 a test. Breath analyzers are already being used at some airports in Poland for rapid, inexpensive tests. Their sensitivity is rated at 93%, about the same as nasal swabs, but the breath analyzer tests are less invasive since all the subjects must do is blow into a tube. Spitting into test tubes has similar advantages.
If any of these tests were used, this and the vaccine documentation would probably enable masking in airports and on flights to be made optional, eliminating an even more significant source of strife.
Also, since the COVID risk is much greater than the risk of guns and explosives right now, the TSA PreCheck Program protocols could be used with all but a small random sample of fliers. Most fliers would no longer have to remove their shoes, or line up for 30 minutes or more. For both fliers and airport personnel, the possibility of trading off intensive security screening for a one-minute COVID test would be a welcome change.
Ticket-issuing should be shifted outside the terminal, where there is ample time to check that each traveler has indeed been fully vaxxed. As part of the ticket issuing process, vaccination data can be verified nearly instantly using online databases. Frauds or counterfeits could be detected before people fly by building a 12 or 24-hour validation delay into the ticketing process before tickets are issued.
States and foreign nations are coming down hard on vaccine fraudsters. Last Friday, this publication reported that Hawaii had arrested a father-and-son who attempted to use fraudulent vaccine docs. Their maximum sentence can be a $5,000 fine and a year in jail. In the same issue, TRO reported that Canada had arrested several American visitors who had also been caught using fraudulent vaccine docs. Their fine could be as much as $20,000 each, plus the cost of legal representation.
Proof of vaccinations could also be submitted online through local travel agents paid for these services. This could revitalize the travel advisors’ businesses, many of which are teetering on the verge of insolvency, by providing an additional revenue source. It would also permit travel advisors to offer travel insurance, hotel reservations, and other products; and give these new clients the information they need to travel safely and protect their travel costs.
Validating vaccination data could also be a service that many high-end credit cards would want to provide. These data could easily be added to credit information and used by the patrons when traveling or entering local restaurants and stores.
At this time, with the Delta variant the travel industry’s primary threat, no one can seriously argue against universal vaccinations and rapid tests, especially in the case of travelers who can infect those in faraway locations as well as at home.
A conservative judge on the US Supreme Court has just ruled that refusing to vaccinate has never been a “right” guaranteed by the US Constitution or anyone else.
The Delta variant now threatens to ruin the travel industry for a second time unless we change how we do business. If vaxxes can be required of all those in the military, education, health care, and many major corporations, why not require them of all travelers who can spread infections to places they are visiting and those at home?
Many travel advisors have already spent a year accepting unemployment payments as their most significant source of income. Mandating that every traveler gets vaxxed isn’t a position taken by “the elites,” but by travel advisors seeking to change this humiliating situation.
The fact is, we can no longer afford to have travelers, or most others remain unvaxxed. The trillions of dollars we are now spending on relief from the pandemic will be reduced to a small fraction when everyone is vaccinated.
It’s probably only a matter of months before medical, unemployment, and liability claims made by unvaxxed individuals start to be ruled ineligible for payment. The insurance rates for businesses employing or serving unvaxxed individuals will otherwise become prohibitively high. Sanctions against the unvaxxed will no longer become a matter for the police or public health authorities to resolve; the insurance industry, businesses, and taxpayers will likely do the job themselves.
This article was written over the weekend and was edited Monday morning. Later on Monday, the TRO Travelgram had the story, “Canada Makes Proof of Vaccination Mandatory For Domestic Flights.” The details of the Canadian government’s plan are almost exactly what’s described in this article, and the two Canadian airlines that carry domestic passengers have already voiced their support. All the US needs to do is indicate that they will follow the Canadian’s lead and call this the “Canadian & US Domestic Program for Flight Safety.”
Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. He writes a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s read by more than 80,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is email@example.com.