Airlines

White House works to move stalled airline contact tracing plan, sources say

Key Points
  • The White House wants a plan in place by Sept. 1 for airlines to collect contact tracing information from U.S.-bound international passengers, but will not immediately implement a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proposal, three people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.
  • In February, the CDC issued an internal final rule that aimed to require airlines to collect five contact data elements from international passengers and electronically submit them to Customs and Border Protection to facilitate contact tracing. That has not been enforced.
  • Airline groups instead backed the setting up of a website and mobile application for passengers to send their contact information directly to the CDC.
An American Airlines Group worker wears a protective mask and stands behind a protective barrier while checking in a traveler at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., on Tuesday, June 9, 2020.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House wants a plan in place by Sept. 1 for airlines to collect contact tracing information from U.S.-bound international passengers, but will not immediately implement a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proposal, three people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.

The Trump administration convened a high-level White House meeting on Tuesday that included Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and other senior officials. The White House tasked a interagency working group with adopting an interim solution by June 30 and ahead of any potential coronavirus second wave.

A debate over how data should be collected from passengers in order to quickly identify and contact people exposed to the coronavirus has dragged on for months without resolution.

In February, the CDC issued an internal final rule that aimed to require airlines to collect five contact data elements from international passengers and electronically submit them to Customs and Border Protection to facilitate contact tracing.

That has not been enforced. Airlines strongly protested, saying it was unworkable. They argued they could not provide such information, especially from passengers booking tickets through third-party websites.

Airline groups instead backed the setting up of a website and mobile application for passengers to send their contact information directly to the CDC.

The interagency group will work with technical experts at industry association Airlines for America, the CDC and others on an interim solution that could take effect by Sept. 1 and will consider the airline proposal, the sources said.

If no workable plan is identified, the administration will likely move ahead with the existing CDC plan, sources said.

Airlines for America, a group representing American Airlines, United AirlinesDelta Air Lines and others, said earlier this week airlines "strongly support a contract tracing solution that will provide the most secure data to the U.S. government in a timely and efficient manner."

The White House and Transportation Department declined to comment. The CDC and DHS did not respond to requests for comment.