COVID-19 has changed the way we move in the world, and this includes air travel. You may or may not feel quite ready to hit the skies and that’s understandable. I’ve flown several times since March and have felt more comfortable with each trip. As with so many things in life, “the unknown” can make things so much scarier! Let’s dive into the changes I’ve noticed and what you can expect if you’re booking a flight anytime soon.
Do Your Homework
TSA has implemented new procedures in response to COVID-19 and you may feel better if you take a moment to review them here.
Airlines are asking passengers to complete an online “health acknowledgment” before check-in to confirm, among other things, that they will wash or sanitize their hands before boarding, will check their temperature before heading to the airport, and have had no symptoms related to COVID-19 in the previous 14 days. While it’s all on the honor system, it does provide an opportunity for reflection so air travel passengers can do a personal risk assessment.
Will it be crowded?
In my flying experience this summer, I’ve noticed there seems to be an increasing volume of travelers. That said, some airports still felt kinda like ghost towns. Others- like ATL and CLT- had quite a lot of people but still noticeably less than pre-Corona times.
Out of curiosity, I did a little digging. And as it turns out, my observation was correct: In the week of 08/03/20, there were 737,235 passengers screened by TSA while the same week in 2019 had 2,619,406! The lowest week this year was 04/14/2020 and there were only about 87,500 passengers… can you imagine??
Your flight will likely be full or nearly full, depending on where you are traveling. For a while, some airlines had capacity restrictions but those have mostly been lifted.
In my experience, most people do space themselves out fairly well in the security line. There are stickers in many places on the floor to indicate 6’ distancing as well as many signs to remind travelers to participate in social distancing.
Some airports will not handle your printed ticket in order to avoid cross-contamination. However, with the exception of once, an agent asked me to hand them my ticket and license for inspection. In one airport I just scanned my license into a machine but that doesn’t seem to be very common.
Since you must wear a mask in the airport, the agent will ask you to quickly lower your mask in order to confirm your identification compared to your license.
My favorite part of air travel is “airport snacks.” If you’re counting on food or beverage, just know that many restaurants are closed or offering limited menus. The majority of the convenience stores seem to be open but some are shuttered.
At your gate, most travelers will be social distancing. It’s good etiquette to remember to allow plenty of space between you and your nearby passengers before boarding the plane.
All major airlines are requiring passengers over age 2 to wear masks during the boarding process, the entire duration of the flight, and during baggage claim. Most airports are also enforcing masks in the concourse and I didn’t see anyone try to bypass the rule. It’s important to know that airlines aren’t making exceptions for passengers who state that they have a medical condition that makes wearing a mask impossible. Southwest issued a statement that sums up the policies of most airlines, “If a customer is unable to wear a face covering or mask for any reason, Southwest regrets that we will be unable to transport the individual.”
I wasn’t sure how my children (twins age 7, daughter 5, and son 3) would do. But they kept their masks on the entire time except for a few moments we needed to remind them. My daughter found a creative use for hers that was so funny I had to take a photo before I moved it to the bottom of her face (photo).
Frontier is the first U.S. airline to take passengers’ temperatures with a touchless thermometer before boarding and will block anyone with a temperature of 100.4 F or higher from flights.
Air Canada is taking passengers’ temperatures before boarding now as well. It’s looking like this might become standard practice as industry leaders, such as Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, are urging the TSA to include temperature checks as part of its standard passenger screening process.
During Your Flight
- Seat spacing: It’s possible you’ll be seated on a full airplane, near lots of strangers (although I’ve had several mostly-empty flights). This can be a scary thought when you’ve been social distancing for so long! It may help your anxiety to know that at least your seatmates will be wearing masks. If you fly Delta before Sept 30 you’ll be guaranteed 50% capacity in first class and 60% in the main cabin. Southwest is blocking middle seats through Sept. 30.
- Cleaning: All airlines have enhanced their cleaning procedures and are using hospital-grade disinfectants (this sorta makes me wonder what they were using before… but I digress). Several airlines provide sanitizing wipes but that seemed inconsistent and I always carry my own anyway.
- Food: Snacks aren’t being served on most flights at this time so you should plan to bring your own. A few flights offer a small bag with a little water bottle and cookie (and a wet wipe!). JetBlue’s beverages and snacks come in a sealed bag. American has said that flights over 2200 miles will have a snack service so your odds of in-flight refreshments are better on longer flights.
Overall, I can share with you that I felt extremely safe during air travel this summer. While I understand that you may be skeptical, I hope reading about what to expect has eased some of your concerns. When you return to the skies, you can expect to find airlines that prioritize the safety of their crew and passengers.