Delta and CDC Partner on Contact Tracing for International Travelers

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© Courtesy of Delta Air Lines
Delta and CDC Partner on Contact Tracing for International Travelers


Courtesy of Delta Air Lines Contact tracing is an important piece of the virus containment puzzle. Delta Air Lines has partnered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help facilitate improved contact tracing on international flights so that passengers can be informed quickly in the event of COVID-19 exposure.

Starting on December 15, Delta will ask customers traveling to the United States from an international destination to voluntarily provide five pieces of information to aid contact tracing and public health efforts. These include:

  • Full name
  • Email address
  • Address in the United States
  • Primary phone number
  • Secondary phone number

While providing the information will not be mandatory for most international passengers, it will be required of those who participate in Delta’s quarantine-free flights to Italy upon return to the United States. Foreign nationals or U.S. passport holders traveling to the United States on any Delta-operated flight can participate in the voluntary program.

International travel remains highly restricted and is still off limits for many (a ban is still in place on travel to the U.S. from Europe, Brazil, Iran, and China), but U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents residing abroad are legally allowed to enter the United States amid the pandemic. And there are no federal restrictions on international travelers arriving from countries that do not fall under the bans (though individual states have restrictions, such as mandatory quarantines and testing requirements, that can apply to international travelers).

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Under Delta’s new contract tracing program, the airline is working with the CDC to streamline the process by directly (and securely) transmitting customer data to the CDC via U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This will give the CDC more immediate access to the data, “dramatically decreasing the time it takes to notify affected customers via local health departments” and helping to “reduce instances of potential exposure and slow the spread of the virus,” Delta stated.

The carrier said it will not retain the passenger information for any longer than is necessary to achieve the contact tracing and public health follow-ups.

Currently, if a passenger is confirmed to have been infectious with COVID-19 while traveling, the CDC requests a passenger manifest from the airline to identify all customers seated within two seats of the passenger who was confirmed to have COVID-19. That information is then transmitted to local health departments, which follow up with passengers in their jurisdiction.

“Contact tracing adds one more important layer to our efforts to ensure safety throughout travel,” Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, said in a statement. “We want customers to feel safe when they return to travel, and this voluntary program is another way we can provide additional reassurance to customers and employees alike.”  

Delta is the first U.S. airline to take this step in helping public health officials increase contact tracing efficiency, which can reduce transmission incidents—if passengers are aware of possible exposure, they can carry out the necessary precautions. Since the start of the pandemic, the CDC has upheld that contact tracing is a key component in transmission prevention.

To properly carry out the contact tracing program, Delta will work with its global airline partners (which include AirFrance, KLM, Alitalia, AeroMexico, Virgin Atlantic, Latam, and Korean Air) as well as with government agencies, health officials, and aviation authorities.

The contact tracing comes just after Delta recently announced that it will be blocking middle seats through March 30, 2021—making it the last holdout on offering passengers that additional space during the pandemic.

>> Next: International Fliers May Soon Need to Get COVID-19 Vaccinations

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