US officials want more traveler information from airlines to aid coronavirus response

US officials are pressing airlines to collect and share more data on international travelers with federal health officials combating the coronavirus, two officials tell CNN. By Jeremy Diamond and Gregory Wallace, CNN

(CNN) -- US officials are pressing airlines to collect and share more data on international travelers with federal health officials combating the coronavirus, two officials tell CNN.

The matter has been a focal point of discussions between US officials and major airlines ahead of Vice President Mike Pence's meeting with airline representatives this week, and officials said the issue will likely be a focus of the meeting unless the matter is resolved ahead of time.

The data request includes contact information that would help health officials follow up with potential carriers of the coronavirus, or fellow travelers who may have come into contact with an infected person.

The request itself is outlined in an interim final rule the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and US Department of Health and Human Services issued in mid-February. It requests airlines provide, within 24 hours of a CDC request, each passenger's name, "address while in the United States," email address and both a primary and secondary phone number.

The complication, according to an industry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, is that many air carriers don't currently collect some of the contact details the CDC is requesting. Bookings made through a third-party search engine, for example, may include very limited information about a passenger.

Currently, airlines are required to respond to a public health-related request only with the passenger contact information they have, as well as details about the specific flight and even seat number. The new proposal will make collection of this information mandatory.

CDC said in the proposal the information currently available is not necessarily "timely, complete, or accurate," and even collecting supplementary information from the Department of Homeland Security, which processes international travelers, does not adequately "fill the gaps."

It can take government officials "nearly two weeks" to compile contact information using the current requirements, according to the proposal. That is same amount of time that it takes coronavirus to incubate in a patient.

The rule does not specify how the airlines must collect the data, but it does acknowledge that "a certain amount of modification to airlines' information systems will be necessitated."

The department is taking public comment on the proposal until March 13. The vice president's office did not immediately provide a comment to CNN.

Rep. Rick Larsen, chairman of an aviation subcommittee on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said "that's difficult to do" when asked about the possibility of collecting more passenger data because the airlines don't collect the information the government wants.

"I don't think it's necessary to do that," Larsen said, adding he's been told it's a "trial balloon."

He said to accomplish that, "we would have to establish an entirely new process -- entirely new software system to make that request. Collect it, provide it. And the question is whether that would be necessary to address the problem."

Also, a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee is holding a hearing with the airlines Wednesday. Sen. Maria Cantwell, of Washington state, ranking Democrat on the full committee, told CNN she is sending letters to the airlines over the next day to get more information about the stances they are taking.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Share this article: