Here’s What to Expect When You’re Flying During COVID-19

Remember the days of bumping knees with your seatmate on your flight, or feeling the breath of the person behind you at the security checkpoint?

Those less-than-glamorous aspects of air travel are behind us due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

New techniques meant to slow the viral spread, like social distancing and the recent Center for Disease Control’s recommendation to wear masks are making their way into the new inflight experience.

As many airlines begin to ramp up their operations, offering more domestic and international flights than in recent months, you may be gearing up to take your first flight post-pandemic. 

An empty middle seat and testing before boarding are just a few of the ways airlines are trying to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and make flying safer for their passengers.

Here’s What to Expect Before and During Your Next Flight

The new way of traveling has changed a lot from what you used to see at the airport and on your flight and there are some important changes your should be aware of before you go to travel again. 

#1. Changes to Security Checkpoints

Waiting in crowded lines at the security checkpoint is a thing of the past along with many other changes the TSA has implemented since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The TSA says it is committed to protecting the health and safety of the traveling public and has made many key changes to its procedures.

Here’s a list of new policies the TSA has put into place to help make traveling safer during COVID-19 pandemic:

  • TSA will allow for each passenger to carry one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces in his or her carry-on bags.
  • Fewer security checkpoints will be open to meet a reduction in the number of flights leaving the airport each day. 
  • TSA will use visual reminders to increase distance between individuals as they enter the security checkpoint queue and will stagger the use of lanes in the security checkpoint where it’s possible.
  • TSA employees will conduct routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces and security screening equipment at the security checkpoint.

Depending on the airport, you may be asked screening questions about your health, as well, before being able to pass through the checkpoints. 

You’re already familiar with most of these changes in process from visits to grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and other public places since the pandemic hit, so you can expect more of the same at the security checkpoints. 

#2. No More Crowded Airports

As stay-at-home orders have swept the country, their impact can be seen at any given airport terminal across the US. The usual scene of people brushing by each other to get to their gates has been replaced with eerily empty terminals. 

With more than 5,000 flights canceled in the US in April and airlines only operating flights at 5 to 15 percent seating capacity, airports are far less populated. 

Some airports have also taken the initiative to enforce their state mandated stay-at-home orders by only allowing entrance for essential workers. Here are some of the changes bigger airports have implemented: 

  • Los Angeles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport both limited their number of visitors by restricting entry to ticketed passengers only. This decision is designed to help maintain social distancing practices at each airport.
  • San Francisco International Airport is implementing the use of face coverings to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and requires every traveler passing through the airport to wear one. 

These changes to airports across are necessary but can be shocking for someone who hasn’t traveled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is used to seeing more people rushing around the airport.

#3. Testing for Passengers & Crew

Because a high fever is a symptom of COVID-19, some airlines have required all crew and passengers to get their temperatures taken before boarding their flights.

Most major airlines have already started taking the temperatures of their flight crew members before they board their plane for work. 

These temperature checks have also been used by government agencies when arriving in a new country after an international flight. 

Air Canada just implemented its no-contact infrared temperature screenings for all passengers May 15. Any flier with a temperature of 99.5 degrees or higher will not be allowed to board a flight for Air Canada.

These temperature tests mandated by airlines are designed to help ensure that anyone with the symptoms of COVID-19 does not board a plane or contaminate other passengers.

Tests like these or even more rigorous testing could be the mandatory for all airlines as well as TSA screenings in the near future. 

#4. Inflight Physical Distancing 

Keeping your distance from your neighbor on a crowded plane was nearly impossible before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now it is a requirement.

The CDC recommends that people remain at least six feet apart from one another to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. To be able to do that on a plane means that entire rows must only seat one passenger. 

To follow these social distancing guidelines, most airlines have started eliminating the middle seat or staggered seating

Delta and Alaska Airlines have both eliminated bookings for middle seats while United, American and JetBlue have each reduced the number of available seats for booking as gate agents stagger passengers to abide by social distancing policies. 

#5. Personal Protection Requirements

The CDC recommends that the public wear face masks when they are outside. Some airlines have taken this recommendation and made it a requirement for its passengers.

JetBlue was the first airline to make face coverings mandatory for passengers and United, Delta, American and Southwest have all followed suit in these requirements

The use of the face covering is designed to help stop the spread of the coronavirus which can be transmitted through the air. By wearing a face mask, it helps reduce the chance of spreading the disease onto others.

Each airline employee is also required to wear a mask during the flight to ensure everyone on board is doing their part to prevent any exposure to COVID-19.

Along with facemasks, American Southwest will also distribute sanitation wipes upon passenger request.

#6. Procedures for Potential Onboard Coronavirus Exposure

Along with temperature checks for employees, face coverings for everyone on board and social distancing seating policies, major US airlines have also ramped up its response to potential coronavirus exposure onboard. 

While the airlines have done a lot to prevent anyone with COVID-19 from entering the aircraft, they are also currently working on ways to respond to potential coronavirus exposure on each plane. 

United Airlines is taking this initiative by stating that if an employee or customer is exhibiting potential coronavirus symptoms while onboard an aircraft, the aircraft is taken out of service and sent through a full decontamination process. 

Delta Airlines has also claimed that they have expanded their cleaning procedures to include aircraft fogging with an EPA-registered disinfectant on all domestic aircraft sitting on the ground longer than four hours.

This type of response to potential COVID-19 contamination is intended as another protective layer for airlines to make travel safer for its passengers during the on-going pandemic. 

#7. Little to No Inflight Service 

The carts filled with food and complimentary beverages likely won’t be a part of your next inflight experience. 

Serving food and beverages on a flight violates public health practices so most airlines are not making inflight service mandatory as it was before.

Here are some of the revised practices of major airlines: 

  • Delta’s inflight service has become a temporary “essential only” food and beverage service on all domestic flights except between Atlanta and Honolulu. 
  • As their way of rolling back service, Alaska and American Airlines will not be offering meals in first class and Alaska has suspended service completely on their short-haul flights.
  • United is moving to prepackaged foods and sealed beverages across its cabins to protect its passengers from any outside exposure. 

With so many changes to different airline inflight service experiences, be sure to check with each airline’s policies ahead of your flight. 

You should also be sure to bring enough food and water just in case because there will be even less to choose from during your inflight experience than before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Know the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic Before You Travel 

Frequent travelers are good at adapting to change, this just happens to be a bigger change than anyone could have expected. But knowing how the travel industry has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can help you as you move forward in these uncertain times. 

Travelers are versatile by nature and though there are a lot of changes to the travel industry, we will be able to adapt. 

By Kristine Auble

Kristine grew up traveling her whole life. Her mother was a flight attendant who took her from her hometown in Southern New Jersey to visit places all over the world. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a journalism degree, Kristine realized she never lost the travel bug. She became a flight attendant herself in 2018. She writes articles whenever she’s not in the air and hopes to make travel more manageable for anyone eager to explore the world like she is.


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