Trump feuds with airlines over coronavirus after White House asks for passenger information

The airline industry says it can't develop necessary technology in time, but the administration thinks it's lying

Graig Graziosi
Monday 09 March 2020 16:16
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Donald Trump jousted with reporters during a wild gaggle at CDC headquarters in Atlanta on Friday. AP
Donald Trump jousted with reporters during a wild gaggle at CDC headquarters in Atlanta on Friday. AP

Requests by the Trump administration to the airline industry to collect more passenger information to help stem the spread of coronavirus have resulted in heightened tensions between the industry and the White House.

The administration - at the urging of the Centers of Disease Control - has asked airlines to begin collecting data on travellers to help the government slow the spread of coronavirus. Airline industry officials claim they don’t have the technology available to meet the government’s requests, but the CDC is sceptical.

CNN reported the tension Monday. The information in the story is largely attributed to unnamed spokespeople and anonymous sources.

The White House has come under fire for its response to the coronavirus, which has already killed 22 people in the US and thousands globally.

The central point of contention is whether or not the airlines can actually develop the technology to collect the data - particularly where passengers travelled in the previous 48 hours, especially if they’d been in China, Italy or South Korea - in an appropriate time-frame. Airline officials have apparently claimed they could use paper to collect the information.

The CDC has been trying to get the airlines to comply with data collection efforts since the beginning of the year, and is allegedly sceptical of the airlines’ claims. According to the CNN report, the CDC has threatened to recommend that the administration ground planes if the airlines don’t comply with the organisations' requests.

An unnamed airline official told CNN that the industry spent two years complying with post-9/11 data collection rules, and requests for more data have continued ever since.

“It seems they want us to do this forever and we are pushing back,” the source said.

The source also claimed that the airlines and industry lawyers were concerned what the government - particularly the Customs and Border Patrol and ICE - would do with the collected information.

The Trump administration has apparently given the airlines until March 14 to comply with their demands for data, after which carriers could be fined up to $250,000.

Airline officials have pushed back against this threat, already reeling from the potential $100 billion loss to the industry should the coronavirus continue to spread unchecked.

“There were several calls between the airlines and the US government about this new data collection process, which was initiated in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. We understand that any new process can be challenging to implement quickly, which is why the rule is currently open for public comment. Airlines have been encouraged to provide feedback through the public comment process,” a CDC spokesperson said.

Representative Rick Larsen, who chairs the House aviation subcommittee, said the airlines simply didn’t have the information the CDC was requesting.

“If the focus is doing it exactly the way the administration wants, it will be a long negotiation. Airlines don’t have all the information the CDC wants,” he said.

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