Major U.S. airlines will collect international contact tracing info

Major U.S. airlines on Friday said they would adopt a voluntary international contact tracing program, months after the White House under then-President Donald Trump blocked a mandatory effort.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and other major airlines said they had committed to collecting contact tracing data from passengers traveling into the United States and to relaying that data to the CDC if travelers provide information.

In August, Trump officials rejected an effort to require airlines to collect contact tracing information from U.S.-bound international passengers, after some senior administration officials cited privacy concerns, and back in February 2020, airlines protested when the CDC issued an interim final rule requiring them to collect certain data from international passengers including phone numbers to help with contact tracing.

The rule was never enforced, but airlines argued they could not provide such information, especially from passengers booking tickets through third-party websites, though airlines backed setting up a website and a mobile application for passengers to send contact information directly to the CDC.

The head of the airline trade association Airlines for America Nick Calio said airlines were hopeful this new voluntary effort and international passenger testing requirements adopted last month by the CDC will lead policymakers to lift travel restrictions.

President Joe Biden in January reimposed an entry ban on nearly all non-U.S. travelers who have recently been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders - a ban Trump had sought to end days before leaving office.

Biden quickly added South Africa to the list.

There is however no immediate indication the CDC will move quickly to drop these restrictions, some of which have been in place for almost a year.