Just a few months ago, the world felt like a much different place than it does right now. Countries are reopening following the coronavirus pandemic, but the virus is still here for the foreseeable future. It’s changed how we do things in nearly every area, including airline travel.
Even so, people are increasingly deciding to travel again, particularly after spending months in lockdown.
The airline industry has always been highly regulated and focused on meeting rigorous safety standards and right now is no exception. The industry has some of the most sweeping overall requirements and changes to fly this summer.
So what can you expect if you plan to fly anytime in the next few months?
One of the benefits of traveling right now, while it may be a little nerve-wracking, is that you’re probably going to face significantly reduced crowds at the airport.
In response to covid-19, the TSA has changed some of their security measures and they will continue to roll them out this month.
First, it could take longer to go through security, so you might want to show up earlier than normal. While airports will be somewhat less crowded, they may not be as desolate as they were in March and April.
TSA staff will be wearing masks, and travelers are advised to do the same. Some TSA officers will also wear face shields or eye protection. The agents will have to change their gloves each time they do a pat-down.
You can now bring one bottle of hand sanitizer of up to 12 ounces per passenger in your carry-on bag, but you’ll have to take it out for screening.
If you bring something in your carry-on that’s not permitted, TSA might not open it up on a table in the screening area as they did previously. Instead, you might have to leave security and take the items out and then go back through security.
You will have to remove your face covering, so a TSA agent is able to confirm your identity.
Some airlines say they will take temperatures of passengers, but most airlines have said they feel like it’s up to the government to do any health screenings. The Department of Homeland Security is still considering whether or not to implement temperature checks or thermal scanning at airports.
If you’re someone who usually loves hanging out in the airport or leaping from lounge-to-lounge, your options are going to be limited right now. Most airports have closed the majority of lounges or reduced how many people can go in at a time and their hours. Many of the restaurants and shops may be operating at a limited capacity as well if they’re open at all.
Most airlines are requiring passengers wear face masks.
In fact, all major airlines in the U.S. currently require it.
JetBlue was the first U.S. airline to announce the decision. You have to wear them at a minimum during check-in and boarding, and when deplaning, but usually while in flight too.
The crews are wearing face coverings too.
If you forget yours, then the airline will likely be able to give you one.
If you have small children and they can’t keep a face covering on, on their own, they may be exempt, as are children under two.
There has been some back-and-forth about whether or not face coverings are actually required or just suggested. For example, the crew might not force someone to wear one, and some airlines are leaving it up to crew as to whether or not to enforce it. Crew is encouraged to simultaneously minimize disruptions.
With that being said, even more recently, there have been announcements from some airlines that they are going to crackdown on face coverings. The goal, according to trade groups representing airlines in the U.S., is to help people feel more comfortable returning to flying by more stringently enforcing face coverings.
United Airlines and American have said they might even deny boarding in the future to passengers that won’t put on a face-covering.
Pilots unions have said they can’t enforce the face coverings, and they want federal officials to make it a law.
It’s not just the face-covering requirement that’s changing once you’re on board your flight.
Many airlines, including Delta, are enforcing social distancing by blocking out middle seats in the main cabins and in Comfort+. If you want to be seated directly next to whoever you’re traveling with, you’ll need to contact the reservations department. Delta and other airlines are also slashing overall capacity on flights.
Many airlines are limiting how many passengers board at one time.
Delta has said they will have their planes be no more than 60% full. Even so, planes are starting to fill up again, particularly as airlines are still operating limited routes.
Airlines have said they already have onboard air filters that are effective at removing pathogens from the circulating air onboard. They are also taking steps to more thoroughly clean the aircraft, such as using foggers.
Finally, in-flight services are cut in a major way across most airlines. You’re not going to get a lot of snack or meal options, in an attempt to minimize interactions. Even if you’re in first class, don’t expect much in the way of food and beverage.
Initially, Southwest suspended all onboard snacks and beverages, but in May, they reintroduced water and snack mix for flights longer than 250 miles. On domestic flights, Delta eliminated everything but water.
For international flights, it’s been mixed, but drink service is usually limited to beer or wine if it’s offered.
Overall, whether or not you feel comfortable flying is a personal decision. If you do decide to board a flight, it’s going to be quite a different experience than what you’re likely used to, so prepare yourself for that. Luckily airlines do seem to be taking health and safety seriously and making some pretty sweeping alterations to how they do things.