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News / Business

Inslee announces safety guidelines for air travel amid coronavirus pandemic

By Joseph O’Sullivan, The Seattle Times
Published: September 25, 2020, 8:28am

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday announced safety requirements for commercial airport service, as the airline industry continues to struggle amid COVID-19.

The new statewide requirements are geared toward making sure airport employees, passengers and air crew are kept safe against the new coronavirus.

In a news conference Thursday, Inslee said he believed the new requirements would “greatly benefit the traveling public” and also protect aviation workers.

The requirements apply to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, as well as airports in Spokane, Everett, the Tri-Cities and elsewhere, he said.

But they only cover spaces in airports before passengers cross through security, because that is where the state has jurisdiction, Inslee said.

Hand sanitizer stations must be provided in public areas of airport terminals.

Airport businesses and vendors — including construction, hospitality and other industries — are required to follow county and state health requirements. That includes any provisions for physical distancing, employee screening, personal protective equipment, and ways to provide services while reducing close interactions with others.

The governor, who appeared Thursday in a news conference with representatives of Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle, is also encouraging the airline industry to use health-screening questionnaires.

Commercial air travel has dropped sharply since the onset of the pandemic in March. But while data has shown it trending gradually back up in recent months, it remains far below pre-pandemic levels.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport started putting safety protocols in place in the spring, according to Lance Lyttle, managing director of the aviation division at the Port of Seattle.

“Restoring confidence in air travel is absolutely critical to our economic recovery,” Lyttle said at the news conference. The port worked with the governor’s office to develop the “common-sense” requirements, he added, many of which are now in place at the airport.

The airline representatives Thursday discussed some of their safety plans to protect travelers.

Beginning next week, Delta will start a three-week test program on some days to give temperature screenings for their passengers departing Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, said Tony Gonchar, regional vice president.

Delta customers will walk by a thermal camera, he said, and if they register a temperature, they will be screened a second time with a hand-held thermometer. If a passenger registers a temperature of at least 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit in that second test, they will be rebooked or refunded, he said, and placed on a 14-day health-safety restriction list.

That test will run Thursdays to Mondays, between 7 a.m. and noon, said Gonchar.

Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines has implemented more than 100 different safety precautions, said Max Tidwell, vice president of safety and security.

The company is continuing to block off center seats through the end of November, said Tidwell, and is reducing its seats on regional aircraft to make space there.

The company continues to reduce “touchpoints” so passengers can have contact with fewer surfaces in airports, he said, and the company has permanently eliminated change fees for flights.