COVID outbreaks hit TSA, American and Southwest airlines at LAX

Passengers go through a TSA security checkpoint at an airport.
Passengers go through a TSA security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport on July 1.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

COVID-19 outbreaks have hit Los Angeles International Airport with at least 400 confirmed cases among Transportation Security Administration staff and workers at American and Southwest airlines, according to county health officials.

At least 233 TSA staffers at LAX have tested positive for the coronavirus since an outbreak was first detected among workers June 9, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

The TSA outbreak would be the largest active outbreak being monitored by the department, which records outbreaks at residential care facilities, workplaces, food and retail stores, homeless service locations, schools, jails, law enforcement settings and courts.


TSA officials, however, said the county’s numbers were not reflective of current infections.

“Our infection rate for LAX is being inaccurately reported by about seven times higher than we are currently seeing in our operation,” a TSA official said.

TSA refused to provide current infection numbers, saying it no longer provides such data “because they are consistent with community spread patterns.” The agency confirmed that the numbers used by the L.A. County Department of Public Health were provided by local TSA officials at LAX.

The county’s outbreak data reflect cases that have been reported since the beginning of the active outbreak, and include cases where the patient has since recovered, according to the Department of Public Health.

Despite the number of cases being reported, LAX and TSA officials said services have not been affected because of them.

“There has not been any effect to security lines at LAX,” said Daniel D. Velez, a spokesperson for TSA.

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On Sunday, the maximum standard waiting time for a traveler at the airport was 21 minutes, and 99% of travelers were able to go through screenings in less than 15 minutes, Velez said.

The outbreaks among airport workers come as the entire county is facing elevated levels of infections and a possible renewed requirement of indoor masking if the high number of cases persists.


As of Friday, L.A. County was facing an average of about 6,600 new cases a day over the last week.

TSA officials point out rates among staff will often reflect what is happening locally, and workers are continuing to follow masking guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those who feel sick are told to stay home and report confirmed COVID-19 infections.

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According to county health officials, workers for American Airlines at LAX are also experiencing an outbreak of their own, with 154 confirmed cases among staff.

A spokesperson for American Airlines said the 154 infections were cases that have been reported since May 6, and reflect about 2% of the 7,000 employees at LAX. Many of them, the spokesperson said, have already recovered and returned to work.

“The safety of our customers and team members is our top priority,” the airline said in a statement. “We have been in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Los Angeles County Public Health officials throughout the pandemic and will continue to coordinate with them on all required health and safety-related measures.”

In LAX’s Terminal 1, Southwest Airlines workers have seen 28 confirmed cases among staff.

“LA County continues to show high COVID-19 community level transmission and we are experiencing COVID cases within our LAX Employee work groups,” the airline said in a statement. “We continue to follow COVID-19 Guidelines and are not seeing significant impact within our LAX operations.”

Victoria Spilabotte, a spokesperson for LAX, said operations at the airport are still running as normal.

LAX still requires travelers to wear face masks in the airport, but relaxed rules for travel have meant that many airlines no longer require masks for domestic travel.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines, for example, make masks optional for travelers when traveling within the U.S.

A shuttle bus carrying 23 passengers was involved in a crash at LAX, with at least two people suffering serious injuries.

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