CBJ Editorial

The debate hasn’t died down over requiring masks in public, but when it comes to the flying public, we’re glad to see more precautions becoming mandatory.

Flying in a confined aircraft during a pandemic with limited social distancing, even with the recirculation of fresh cabin air every few minutes, can make the most seasoned traveler uneasy.

Pandemic wariness and general economic uncertainty has caused a precipitous decline in air travel, arguably devastating that industry more than any other. Its recovery has been slow, with no sign of returning to normal any time soon.

The Eastern Iowa Airport has experienced a plunge in passenger enplanement numbers, from nearly 100,000 in April 2019 to a low of 3,576 in April 2020. Although the number of passengers improved to 27,834 in June, it remains a fraction of the 127,227 in June 2019.

So how does an airline and airport take simple steps to put travelers more at ease during this challenging time?

The Eastern Iowa Airport is taking the lead with CID Travel Well, a mandatory passenger health screening program approved by the Cedar Rapids Airport Commission last week. When implemented in early September, it could be the first mandatory health screening program for airline passengers in the nation.

Passengers at CID will be required to pass screening to gain admission to a “sterile area” where the airport’s boarding gates are located. It will at most take 10 or 15 seconds for them to get a temperature check and answer some health screening questions from health technicians. If they have a high temperature, they will be required to go to a private secondary screening area for further questioning by a nurse to determine the cause, and even receive a telehealth visit with a doctor, if warranted. The airline that tickets the passenger will make the final ‘fly-or-no-fly’ decision.

Airport Director Marty Lenss estimated the program with Mercy Medical for health screening will cost about $600,000 per year based on staffing it about 14 hours per day. The expenditure was awaiting funding approval last week from the Federal Aviation Administration, with the main question expected to be which funding stream the airport could use.

“We don’t have a national solution for the national system,” Mr. Lenss said. “I think that’s needed. There’s been a lot of discussion about health care screening. Some are doing voluntary temperature checks. None are making it a requirement.”

Although mandatory screening is unique in the U.S., it’s a different story overseas. A recent article by journalist James Fallows notes that anyone who has traveled through China in the 15-plus years since the SARS outbreak is familiar with the large temperature-check gates that inbound and outbound passengers must walk through.

The Cedar Rapids Airport Commission also implemented a requirement that masks be worn in the terminal effective July 28, with very few exceptions.

We commend Mr. Lenss and the airport commission for taking the lead and making an investment in the safety of travelers. Hopefully, this step coupled with others will help get folks traveling again soon. CBJ