COVID Safety Meltdown? TSA, Consumer Reports add more reasons to fly by private jet

By Doug Gollan, July 12, 2020

More than 1,000 TSA agents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 6 have died from the Coronavirus

TSA federal security director Jay Brainard filed a whistleblower complaint in June on how his own agency had failed to implement key safety measures to protect agents and passengers

Consumer Reports is petitioning DOT Secretary Chao to make COVID-19 safety standards mandatory for airlines and airports

As private jet travel increased 5% year-over-year during the July 4th holiday period, airlines, airport authorities, and the federal government are giving you more reasons to fly privately.

I have no doubt whatsoever that our people became Typhoid Marys and contributed to the spread of that virus because TSA senior leadership did not make sure (screeners) were adequately protected

– Jay Brainard, TSA director and whistleblower

That’s if you need any. A study first published by Private Jet Card Comparisons on March 11, showed that potential contact points for contracting the COVID-19 Coronavirus are 30 times lower when flying privately.

In June, in a letter to the Transportation Security Administration’s Office of the Special Counsel, the lawyer for one of its own security directors wrote, “TSA has failed to provide a centralized, proactive response to the pandemic through adequate guidance, authority to enforce public health controls and resources such as personal protective equipment (PPE), authority and basic sanitation controls to prevent unnecessary spread of the COVID-19 virus to airport passengers.”

Jay Brainard, who oversees airports in Kansas for the Department, said TSA had failed to provide protective barriers where agents and travelers weren’t able to socially distance. TSA officers were also failing to change or clean gloves between passenger interactions.

He told the Associated Press, “I have no doubt whatsoever that our people became Typhoid Marys and contributed to the spread of that virus because TSA senior leadership did not make sure (screeners) were adequately protected.”

An advisor to Consumer Reports says DOT policies to protect the safety of airline passengers are “inconsistent and often inadequate.”

Brainard also said supervisors were barred from giving screeners stockpiled N95 respirators in March when facial coverings such as surgical masks were hard to buy.

Consumer Reports Warns Of Airline, Airport COVID-Safety Shortcomings

Consumer Reports is saying the DOT’s recommendations for airlines and airports to address the complaint and other shortcomings have fallen short.

A press release from Consumer Reports stated, “The DOT issued guidelines to address passenger safety concerns during the pandemic, but the agency provides too much leeway to airlines and airports and should be using its authority to require industry to comply with them, according to the consumer group.”

William J. McGee, an aviation advisor to Consumer Reports, added, “Americans are rightfully concerned that they may be putting their health and safety at risk if they choose to fly during a global pandemic.”

He continued, ““The DOT shouldn’t leave it up to the airlines and airports to decide which COVID-19 safety precautions they will follow to keep passengers safe.  These guidelines are a first step, but not enough.  Secretary Chao should make any health standards mandatory to ensure passengers are protected when they travel during this unprecedented crisis.”

Over 1,000 TSA Workers Test Positive For COVID-19

Late last week TSA released data showing 1,033 of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19, including six who had died from the virus without a cure. Forbes reported the positive tests covered 47 airports.

Data from the TSA website show New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (109 screeners testing positive for COVID-19), followed by Newark Liberty (60), Miami International (56), Chicago O’Hare (42), and Orlando International (42) had the most screening officers who tested positive.

COVID Positive TSA Screening Agents Ranked By Airport

AirportTSA Screening Officers Testing Positive for COVIDLast work date of most recent screening officer confirmed case
JFK – John F. Kennedy International1095/23/20
EWR – Newark Liberty International607/6/20
MIA – Miami International567/18/20
ORD – Chicago O’Hare International427/4/20
MCO – Orlando International397/3/20
FLL – Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International386/29/20
IAH – George Bush Intercontinental367/5/20
LGA – LaGuardia366/16/20
ATL – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International357/4/20
LAX – Los Angeles International336/28/20
MSY – Louis Armstrong New Orleans International294/13/20
DFW – Dallas/Fort Worth International277/2/20
BOS – Logan International266/23/20
DEN – Denver International216/28/20
PHL – Philadelphia International186/23/20
Source: TSA

A detailed analysis (below) of the data by Private Jet Card Comparisons reveals 24 airports where the last work date of most recent screening officer with a confirmed case of COVID-19 was since July 1.

Miami International and Tampa International Airport both had reported cases on July 9, one day before TSA’s most recent update, while Quad City International, Newark, Houston – Hobby and George Bush, Columbus John Glenn, and Baton Rouge have all seen cases in the past seven days.

COVID Positive TSA Screening Agents Ranked By Recency

AirportTSA Screening Officers Testing Positive for COVIDLast work date of most recent screening officer confirmed case
MIA – Miami International567/9/20
TPA – Tampa International77/9/20
MLI – Quad City International37/7/20
EWR – Newark Liberty International607/6/20
HOU – William P Hobby97/6/20
IAH – George Bush Intercontinental367/5/20
CMH – Columbus Airport37/5/20
BTR – Baton Rouge Metropolitan/Ryan Field27/5/20
ORD – Chicago O’Hare International427/4/20
ATL – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International357/4/20
PHX – Phoenix Sky Harbor International117/4/20
GEG – Spokane International37/4/20
MYR – Myrtle Beach International17/4/20
SBN – South Bend Airport17/4/20
MCO – Orlando International397/3/20
OMA – Eppley Airfield27/3/20
DFW – Dallas/Fort Worth International277/2/20
CLT – Charlotte Douglas International67/2/20
ABY – Southwest Georgia Regional17/2/20
SEA – Seattle/Tacoma International157/1/20
BNA – Nashville International127/1/20
TUL – Tulsa International57/1/20
SDF – Louisville International-Standiford Field27/1/20
TXK – Texarkana Regional-Webb Field17/1/20
Source: TSA

Consumer Reports is urging Transportation Secretary Chao to set requirements covering:

  • How and whether to screen passengers and employees for COVID-19 before travel
  • Appropriate social distancing in airports and airplane cabins
  • Use of face masks and other personal protective equipment for passengers and employees
  • Appropriate airport and airline cleaning procedures
  • Effectiveness of airplane cabin air circulation systems

In a post on Facebook, Consumer Reports’ McGee wrote, “It’s unacceptable that DOT Secretary Elaine Chao is allowing individual airlines and airports nationwide to implement–or not implement–a patchwork of inconsistent and often inadequate measures to protect the health of passengers flying during COVID-19.”

Last month American Airlines joined United Airlines in saying it would fill airplanes to capacity, opening a chasm within the industry drawing the ire of CDC officials testifying before Congress.

Private Jets Offer Safe Haven From COVID-19

Since the beginning of the crisis, private aviation companies have been proactive in implementing more stringent protocols to protect both employees and passengers.

In addition to heightened cleaning, private aviation companies have used special virus protection treatments for aircraft and terminals.

NetJets and Flexjet have even eschewed airlines to reposition pilots as they did pre-pandemic. Instead, they are using their sterilized private jets instead. Sentient Jet, a broker of jet card programs, and a sister company of Flexjet, said it was extending similar health-safety protocol requirements to the operators it uses. Companies are also implementing multiple daily temperature checks for customer-facing employees, passengers, and health declaration forms.

A survey of over 1,000 luxury travel advisors by the International Luxury Travel Market showed 22% of clients who are making bookings requested private aviation options.

Catering to customers who are looking to use private jets to vacation at far-flung destinations, VistaJet last week launched Safe Havens, collaborations with private islands, luxury safari lodges, and western ranches. A multitude of luxury hotel groups and providers form Rocco Forte Hotels to Abercrombie & Kent have recently partnered with private jet companies, both to offer private flights for their customers and to attract customers of those companies.

Despite a continued lull in business travel, powered by new flyers, private aviation companies have seen flights rebound to near 2019 levels. NetJets said May 2020 was its best year for new customer acquisition since 2007.

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