US airlines are joining to support a comprehensive voluntary contact-tracing programme to help fight the spread of the coronavirus.

US trade group Airlines for America (A4A) says on 19 February that its seven passenger airline members – Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines – have committed to collect data from international travellers for the purpose of tracing the potential spread of Covid-19.

Airlines will ask customers to submit their names, email addresses, physical addresses and phone numbers if they wish to participate. A4A will pass the information to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Almost empty airport during Covid (C) Southwest

Source: Southwest Airlines

Airlines for America airline members offer voluntary contact tracing for international guests during the coronavirus pandemic

“The implementation of a contact-tracing programme for international passengers is yet another measure in our multi-layered approach to mitigate risk and assure the travelling public that both US airlines and the federal government are prioritising the health and safety of passengers and crew,” says A4A chief executive Nicholas Calio.

The long-term goal, he adds, is for lawmakers to lift travel restrictions, many of which have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.

It is unclear when the programme will launch. 

Airlines have insisted that testing inbound international travellers and contact tracing are effective methods to mitigate the spread of the highly-communicable virus.

Since 26 January, air travellers bound for US destinations from overseas have been required to present a negative coronavirus test result that is less than 72h old. Airlines have said they have seen a slew of cancellations as well as a slowdown in future bookings due to the new requirement.

Carriers have also spoken out against quarantines and testing requirements for domestic travellers – measures the CDC has said it is considering. Airlines have insisted such requirements would make travel within US borders complicated and costly.