United Airlines is introducing contact tracing for all of its flights as the coronavirus pandemic continues to unsettle customers who are wary about spending time in close proximity to strangers on an airplane.
The Chicago-based company is the second US airline after Atlanta-headquartered Delta Air Lines to launch such a programme.
United says on 16 December that it is teaming up with the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to collect information from passengers so that they can be informed if they had been near a Covid-positive co-traveller while on a United aircraft.
The CDC has called contact tracing “a fundamental component of the nation’s public health response strategy for controlling the spread” of coronavirus.
United will be offering the voluntary programme for all international arrivals beginning this week, the carrier says. It will be phased in for domestic and international outbound departures as well. The airline will gather an email address, phone numbers and an physical address of where the customer will be once they reach their destination.
In November, United launched a free coronavirus testing programme for passengers on selected flights between the United States and London.
As case numbers increase across the USA, customers continue to be wary about returning to air travel. Airlines are seeing increased cancellations of forward bookings due to the fear of catching the highly communicable disease onboard an aircraft.
Airline customers are struggling to plan ahead, in part due to diverging and ever-evolving policies and restrictions, including quarantines, that govern passenger behaviour.
There have been about 300,000 deaths from coronavirus in the USA so far, and about 200,000 new infections are occuring every day. Airlines are hoping that widely available vaccination will inspire customers to return, but experts say that that won’t likely be the case until the middle of next year.