The CEO of Philadelphia International Airport says she remains mystified that PHL has not been placed on a list of airports where returning international travelers can be screened.
The list has 15 airports, but not Philadelphia, the principal trans-Atlantic hub for American, the world’s largest airline, and the ninth busiest trans-Atlantic airport in the U.S. Exclusion means international passengers cannot disembark in Philadelphia.
“It’s a real conundrum for us, why we are not on the list,” said Chellie Cameron, airport CEO, in an interview. “It’s befuddled us.
“We’re a trans-Atlantic gateway,” Cameron said. “It’s not like demand is there today, but if we are not on the list and the travel ban is lifted, I don’t want Philadelphia to be at a disadvantage to other airports.”
The airport has an annual economic impact of $2 billion on the tri-state region, Cameron said. Airport employment totals about 21,000, including about 1,000 people employed by the airport and another 20,000 employed by airlines and concessionaires.
“In the last two to three weeks, we have stepped up our efforts to make sure everyone in DC understands that this is a big deal for this region,” Cameron said. “We have reached out to get support from elected officials (and) we are working with the greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the business community.”
Cameron said Senators Bob Casey (D.-Pa) and Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both Delaware Democrats, have signed a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health and Human Services requesting that PHL be added to the list. She noted that the Delaware senators have supported the airport because the state is included in the airport’s service area.
She said she believes Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is writing a separate letter. Toomey’s office did not respond to emails or phone calls. “I believe he is supportive of the airport,” she said. DHS did not respond to emails and a media phone line was inoperative.
Asked if partisan politics might play a role in preventing inclusion of Philadelphia on the list, Cameron said, “I don’t know if this is political or not. A number of things are being evaluated: One is resources (involving Centers for Disease Control stations at airports). It could be a resourcing issue with CDC.”
The 15 airports on the list of “funneling airports” are in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK), Newark, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington (Dulles).
A list of 13 airports was created in March: Fort Lauderdale and Houston were added in May.
The Trump administration “is requiring all Americans returning from affected areas in Europe to be funneled through 13 airports for screening upon their return to the U.S.,” the Department of Homeland Security said in March. CDC provides screening.
Except for Miami International, the third largest U.S. gateway after JFK and LAX, the airports all had Asia routes, which in March already required inspection of returning passengers by the Centers for Disease Control.
American spokesman Andrew Trull said the carrier is backing the airport’s effort.
“There is a coordinated effort from airlines, the airport, our unions, trade groups and local / state officials to advocate for the addition of Philadelphia as a funnel airport for flights from the U.K. and Schengen countries,” Trull said. The Schengen area includes 26 continental European countries.
Besides American, Philadelphia is served by British Airways, Lufthansa, Aer Lingus, Iceland Air and Qatar Airways. Most have expressed interested in restoring service as travel returns, Cameron said.
Currently, travel to the U.S. from Schengen countries is limited by a travel ban imposed by President Trump. The ban applies to non-Americans who have been in the named countries during the previous 14 days. Now, European Union governments are poised to impose a travel ban for U.S. residents for at least two weeks.
Last week, Philadelphia International launched an incentive program intended to help it reclaim traffic lost to the coronavirus crisis. The airport said it would waive airport fees and provide outdoor advertising for both passenger and cargo airlines that add flights.