American Airlines’ last flight from Rome to Philadelphia — for now — touched down at PHL on Tuesday afternoon.
Philadelphia’s dominant air carrier announced a fresh round of schedule reductions earlier on Tuesday, as the global spread of the coronavirus continued to disrupt travel plans and force airline executives to address the financial fallout.
American said it will reduce domestic capacity in April by 7.5%, compared with its current schedule, and it will cut back international service by 10% during the peak summer season.
The airline also said it was suspending service from Philadelphia to Rome “effective immediately through the end of April," citing customer demand. The announcement came the day after Italy asked all of its citizens to limit public activities and travel.
While the United States put in place broad airport screening measures for passengers from China and Iran, the federal government has not taken such steps with arrivals from Italy and South Korea. Instead, the Trump administration made agreements for travelers to undergo pre-departure screenings in those countries, the Washington Post has reported.
For those coming from Rome’s FCO airport, “all customers and crew went through a mandatory screening process at FCO before being allowed to board," American Airlines spokesman Andrew Trull said. "Screenings have been ongoing at FCO for departing customers and crew members for the last week.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends on its website that anyone who has returned from a country designated as a “Level 3” travel health risk — China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy — should stay home from work or school for 14 days and limit public activities, or seek medical care if they show symptoms such as a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.
But it was not entirely clear whether that guidance was being communicated to passengers arriving in Philadelphia from Italy. An airport spokesperson said she could not speak to materials coming from the CDC, and the CDC did not immediately respond to an inquiry on Tuesday.
As for airport guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, “the department is not recommending social distancing” and is “urging people to be aware, but to go about their daily routine,” spokesperson Nate Wardle said in an email.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is on the lookout for passengers with symptoms.
“If CBP observes individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 who have traveled to a Level 3 country such as Italy, we will continue to work with the CDC to determine if the traveler is a possible public health risk by referring them for enhanced health screening,” an agency spokesperson said. “As of March 4, 2020, CBP had referred more than 63,000 travelers at U.S. air, land and sea ports of entry to CDC for enhanced health screening.”
During a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Pennsylvania’s state epidemiologist said anyone who recently returned from Iran or China should reach out to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The official also urged travelers who had returned from Italy, and other affected parts of the U.S., to reach out to the department if they have symptoms.