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The coronavirus pandemic has caused a mass exodus of people flying, with airlines grounding a majority of their planes around the country. However, there are still roughly 260,000 passengers per day flying at the end of May, according to the TSA. That is down drastically from prior to the pandemic.
Because of the dramatic drop in travelers and risk of exposure to COVID-19, the flying experience has greatly changed. Most airline lounges, shops and airline gates remain empty. Airports are now beginning to require masks for all employees and travelers. So if you plan on flying in the near future, we have several tips to help you navigate the new environment of airports and airlines.
12 tips for flying during coronavirus
- Arrive early, but not too early.
- Expect a different boarding process.
- Bring your own PPE.
- Don’t expect the same concessions to be open.
- Be prepared with snacks and drinks for your flight.
- Check the airport’s website for updates.
- Don’t worry about an expired ID.
- Extra hand sanitizer is allowed through security.
- Expedited security programs can save you time and minimize exposure.
- It may be time to spoil yourself with an upgrade to first/business class.
- Check to see how full the plane is.
- Aisle vs. window.
1. Arrive early, but not too early
Airports are emptier than ever. Some photos and videos that have surfaced online make airports seem like they are abandoned, with more than a 95% drop in passengers from this time last year.
Now, the likelihood of getting stuck in a long security line is nearly zero.
Along with this, there are nearly no concessions or airport lounges open to the public. If you arrive much earlier, you may be stuck sitting at the gate with nothing to do until your flight begins boarding.
2. Expect a different boarding process
Many of us have seen the comical photos online of flyers lining up to board their flight, jokingly called “gate lice”. Well now, there is a much different process of boarding to encourage social distancing.
Delta Air Lines has implemented a new system where passengers will board row by row, starting with those sitting in the back of the plane. Those flying Delta One/First class and Delta Medallion members are exempt from this new boarding process.
3. Bring your own PPE
Nearly every airline has implemented their own policies around personal protective equipment (PPE). Employees and customers are required to wear some sort of protection to cover their nose and mouths. However, not all airlines will provide PPE if you do not bring your own.
Here is a list of the large airline brands, and their abbreviated policies:
- Air Canada — Screening passengers for high temperatures. Facial covering required. Facial covering/mask will not be provided by the airline.
- Air France — Masks are required.
- American Airlines — Face coverings required. Masks may be distributed as allowed.
- Delta Air Lines — Masks are required.
- Emirates — Masks are required.
- JetBlue — Masks are required.
- Lufthansa — Facial covering is required.
- Ryanair — Flights will resume July 1, and masks will be required.
- Southwest Airlines — Masks are required.
- United Airlines — Masks are required.
4. Don’t expect the same concessions to be open
In a recent Washington Post story, it was reported that 300 out of the 340 concessions that make up the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were closed. Airports around the country report similar figures.
If you have a favorite airport restaurant or concession stand, it is likely to be closed for the foreseeable future. So plan ahead by eating before heading to the airport, or by bringing extra snacks with you.
5. Be prepared with snacks and drinks for your flight
In addition to reduced food options in the airport, the same situation is likely while you are in-flight. Several airlines, including Delta and Southwest, are limiting in-flight food and drink service to reduce human contact and encourage social distancing.
6. Check the airport’s website for updates
While many of America’s airports are outdated, they are becoming digitally mainstream. Before your next flight, take a look at the airport's website or social media page. You will likely find information about the airport and any updates around the pandemic in relation to your travel plans.
Here are the websites for some of the busiest airports in the United States:
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- Los Angeles International Airport
- O’Hare International Airport
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- Denver International Airport
- John F. Kennedy International Airport
- San Francisco International Airport
- McCarran International Airport
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
- Charlotte Douglas International Airport
- Orlando International Airport
- Miami International Airport
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
- Newark Liberty International Airport
- George Bush Intercontinental Airport
7. Don’t worry about an expired ID
Before COVID-19 took hold of the travel industry, the most urgent news story was the impending requirement for Americans to have a REAL ID by Oct. 1, 2020. Now, that deadline has been pushed back to Oct. 1, 2021, in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The TSA had adjusted their identification protocol to the following: If your driver’s license or state-issued ID expired on or after March 1, 2020, and you are unable to renew at your state driver’s license agency, you may still use it for identification at the checkpoint. TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses or state-issued ID a year after expiration or 60 days after the duration of the emergency, whichever is longer.
8. Extra hand sanitizer is allowed through security
One of the most demanded products throughout the coronavirus pandemic is hand sanitizer. Between December 2019 and February 2020, demand soared by 1,400%. And with flyers on high alert to sanitize frequently, TSA has made adjustments to how much hand sanitizer you can bring through security.
The TSA website currently reads: “TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice. Passengers can expect that these containers larger than the standard allowance of 3.4 ounces of liquids permitted through a checkpoint will need to be screened separately, which will add some time to their checkpoint screening experience.”
9. Expedited security program can save you time, and minimize exposure
While lines may be incredibly short now because of fewer people flying, lines will likely return to normal in the future. Many fear the possibility of becoming exposed due to the crowding of TSA lines.
Expedited security programs like TSA Precheck and Global Entry are an easy way to reduce the potential exposure to others, while saving you time as well. And there are several travel rewards credit cards that include credits to cover the cost of enrolling in either program.
10. It may be time to spoil yourself with an upgrade to first/business class
If you have been saving your points and miles, or found a deal to pay cash for an upgrade, it may be a great opportunity to treat yourself to a premium class seat.
Of course the large seat and extra attention from the flight attendants is enjoyable, but it is also a great way to minimize contact with others. It may not be up to par with the CDC’s social distancing mandates of six feet, but it helps not to be rubbing shoulders with the person next to you.
11. Check to see how full the plane is
Airlines are doing their best to adjust to the times we are in. With extremely empty planes, they are trying to accommodate flyers by allowing them to sit as far away as possible.
In addition, select airlines are blocking off middle seats to practice social distancing. United Airlines is also offering customers the option to change flights if they feel the flight has too many people.
If seating capacity is a concern for your next flight, be sure to give your airline a call in the days leading up to your flight. They may have information/options to give you peace of mind for your next flight.
12. Aisle vs. window
One of the longest debates of air travelers is the best type of seat — aisle or window. In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, it may be advantageous to sit near the window.
As other flyers may get up and walk around throughout the flight, sitting in an aisle seat can cause unneeded interaction between more people.
Should you fly now or wait?
First, consult your medical professional. If you are immunocompromised, it may be best to wait for your personal physician and/or the CDC to confirm it is safe to fly.
If you are in good health, it is still best to avoid flying. You may be asymptomatic and could be carrying the coronavirus through your travels. But if your travel is necessary, simply proceed with caution. Protect yourself as needed and come prepared for a much different reality at the airport.
In the coming months and years, there will be an underlying risk to flying. Airports and airlines will continue to innovate to ensure travelers and employees are properly protected. In the meantime, practice good judgment and personal hygiene throughout your travels.