How The Feds Keep Dangerously Sick Passengers Off Planes

You might have heard about the guy with tuberculosis who was allowed to board a US Airways flight over the weekend despite being on a “Do Not Board” list. It’s yet another failure for our complicated security system, but how did we get there? I decided to dig in to see how the system works, and you won’t be happy.

In June 2007, a Do Not Board program was created for passengers with communicable diseases. It starts off when local and state (or foreign) health officials find out about a person with a highly contagious disease. They then notify the Center for Disease Control (CDC) about that person. The CDC is the keeper of the list along with the Department of Homeland Security, but for once, DHS is willing to let those who know how to handle these things take the lead. The CDC really populates the list.

This list isn’t just for anyone with the flu. It’s only for very serious diseases that can cause major health problems. In fact, only 88 people have been put on the list since it started. To get on the list, there are three criteria that must be met.

  1. The person “likely is contagious with a communicable disease that would constitute a serious public health threat should the person be permitted to board a flight
  2. The person “is unaware of or likely to be nonadherent with public health recommendations, including treatment”
  3. The person “likely will attempt to board a commercial aircraft.”

In other words, if you get on this list, it’s a huge deal. So far all the cases have been people with pulmonary tuberculosis. What happens after the CDC decides that you’re worthy of being on the list? This handy diagram should help.

Do Not Board List

Right now, the TSA takes the list and then communicates it to the individual airlines to manage. As you can imagine, this means there’s a lot of lag time in the process and that’s a problem. Remember, to be on this list, the patient needs to be a threat to get on an airplane, so there is no time to lose. This past weekend, the CDC put this guy on the list on Friday. He flew on Saturday. With all those steps between being sick and the person getting on the plane, it’s not a surprise that the system didn’t react fast enough to keep him off the plane.

I reached out to the TSA to find out if the new SecureFlight program will handle this in the future. Theoretically, that would eliminate a step by taking the airlines out of the equation since the TSA would handle the matching process. I got in touch with a spokesperson at the TSA, but she didn’t know the answer and has yet to get back to me. So, it’s hard to know for sure if this process will improve or not.

Yet another failure of the system. *sigh*


13 Responses to How The Feds Keep Dangerously Sick Passengers Off Planes

  1. Chris says:

    The problem is that the system worked, as designed. It was a flawed DESIGN of the system that caused this.

    Good thing it was a non-contagious (supposedly) sick guy rather than one with a bomb.

  2. David SFeastbay says:

    The airlines and government need one super computer that when data gets entered it’s available to everyone at the same time.

    Is our smart government going to now install medical clinics prior to the security screening area and now eveyone will need to get a quick check up before having their naked body scanned and carry on items hand searched? Nothing like having to go to the airport to check in three days ahead of your 1 hour flight.

    Maybe the head of Ryanair has it right all this time. Stand up seating except if would be laid down bio-sealed human containers where we would all be put into and stacked on the plane like cargo. Our own little blast proof, bio-hazzard proof, built in parachutes in case of a midair mishap. But then you wouldn’t need those ‘here for your safety’ flight attendants so they would be out of a job. The airlines heads would like that, but not the FA unions who would also be out of jobs.

    Years ago people got shots before going over seas, I can see us soon having to get a health check up a day or two before travel and our Doctor’s having to send a fitness report to TSA before we would be allowed into the airport itself. Ah the friendly sky’s!

  3. Jay says:

    Is our smart government going to now install medical clinics prior to the security screening area and now eveyone will need to get a quick check up before having their naked body scanned and carry on items hand searched?

    Um….no. Where’d you get that idea?

    Nothing like having to go to the airport to check in three days ahead of your 1 hour flight.

    Of course there’s “nothing like that” because it doesn’t happen.

    I get it, you think it’s sarcasm.

  4. Andy in NC says:

    Well, is there a procedure for getting out of that list? Diseases are cured, you know…

  5. CF says:

    Andy in NC wrote:

    Well, is there a procedure for getting out of that list? Diseases are cured, you know…

    Yep, most of the people who have been put on the list have been taken off. It’s certainly not a permanent thing.

  6. Oliver says:

    So what happens to dude who violates no-fly order? Presumably he was told and knowingly ignored the order.

  7. Chris says:

    All this really does is illustrate that TSA does nothing to actually provide actual security. For the most part TSA simply provides an illusion of security.

  8. frank says:

    I worked with a female F/A years ago. Confided with me that her doctor had called and asked her to come in to discuss results of a recent Doctor visit.
    Once there, the doctor explained to her that she had contracted TB and her lung X-Ray had a “spot” on it.

    Problem is, these sick people may or may not visit a doctor to be “LISTED”.

  9. frank says:

    Also, I know of a female F/A who contracted a form of skin herpes on her fingers. She gets break-outs where small black balls form around her finger nails.
    Obviously from picking up thousands and thousands of glasses inflight where passengers had their lips on. (transmission of germs)

  10. Jarkko says:

    frank wrote:

    Problem is, these sick people may or may not visit a doctor to be “LISTED”.

    That will be the problem. The other problem might arise when you need another doctor when you go to the taxi, or the bus, or the restaurant. As we all know they are also very international places and the deceases will go overseas from there too. We are going out of doctors, we need to visit one to get in to the other doctor…

  11. Most people would agree that TSA provides an “illusion” of security. Here’s an example. At the end of December 2009, a woman was returning to Phoenix, AZ via Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. The woman put her items in the bins and pushed them through to be scanned. The person running the scanner decided to shut down the system, leave her post and the travelers. When the employee returned to her post, she looked at the woman and asked her what she was waiting for! Before the woman could speak, a gentleman said, “she’s waiting for her shoes!” These are the people who are in charge of the “security” at the airport. If they can’t be trusted to run the scanning system, how can TSA Agents or anyone associated with security be on the look out for people on the “no fly list?”

  12. Hrm, why two systems when they should just load this into secure flight?

  13. CF says:

    Nicholas Barnard wrote:

    Hrm, why two systems when they should just load this into secure flight?

    Well, SecureFlight isn’t fully up and running yet, but I imagine that once it is, this will need to be integrated into the system.

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