What You Need To Know Now for Safe Air Travel in a Post-COVID-19 World
We’ve all spent a lot of time at home recently. The good news is that the world is cautiously opening back up. Fewer states and countries are imposing quarantines. Fewer flights are getting canceled. Air travel is starting to ramp back up, though it is still at historic lows. Most flights are operating at 50% of capacity or less. Airports and airlines implementing social distancing where possible. Adding more contactless options. For a very high touchpoint industry, they are working hard to make customers feel safe in a changed world.
If you're looking to travel in the near future, be prepared for it to look a little...ok a lot...different. Here is some guidance on what to expect at the airport and on the plane.
Preparing For Your Departure
To be a considerate traveler and protect yourself and those around you, plan to arrive at the airport with a supply of hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes as well as a mask or other face covering. Airports have increased the number of hand sanitizer dispensers available. But it’s always nice to have your own supplies to use when you need them.
Breezing through Check-In
Your phone is your friend throughout your airport journey to reduce touchpoints. Download your airline’s mobile app to access contactless check-in options. Even if you are checking a bag, you can still check-in through the app. Some airlines have implemented contactless self-tag bagging areas using your scanned mobile boarding pass. Otherwise, simply show your ID to a gate agent to hand off your checked luggage.
Surviving the Security Checkpoint
Expect the security line to look a little different. Many airports are marking off six feet intervals to encourage travelers to maintain social distance. TSA agents are reducing touchpoints by having passengers scan their own boarding pass then hold them up for review.
You could also consider enrolling in Clear for a touchless TSA screening process. Clear uses cameras to identify passengers by their irises, so you never have to get out your ID. Membership allows you to skip the line, reducing the amount of time that you spend in potentially crowded areas. If you're interested in enrolling, you can get 2 months of membership for free through this link.
Once you’ve made it to the X-ray line, place keys, belts, wallets, phones, and other small items into your carry-on rather than a TSA bin. TSA has updated its liquid policy to allow for more hand sanitizer to be brought through. However, these will need to be inspected so if you have a travel size bottle, I would bring that along.
Boarding the Plane
Airlines are trying to implement policies to reduce the congestion at boarding. Keyword: TRYING. Each airline has different policies and you can read about them ahead of time. But what you experience at the gate may be very different. If you are lucky enough to be on a very empty flight, then maintaining distance should be easy. However, plan to wear your mask and scan your own boarding pass to reduce exposure risk.
Relaxing on Board
Airlines are reducing airplane turnover and increasing cleaning policies to reduce your risk on board. Wiping your seat down yourself grants extra piece of mind. Make sure to get all the touchpoints including the release of the seat belt buckle. Don’t store your used sanitizing wipe in the seatback pocket. Rest it on your tray table until a flight attendant makes the rounds to collect trash.
Most airlines require masks while onboard the aircraft. Make sure your mask is as comfortable as possible to help survive the journey. Airplanes filter air through a strong filter, which is very effective in removing particles, but nothing is perfect. Wearing a mask on board will reduce the number of particles in the cabin and reduce the risk for all passengers.
Don't expect your complimentary drink or snack. Many airlines have suspended food and beverage service to reduce exposure risk. You can check with the airline for their current policies. For longer flights, bottled water and prepackaged snacks may be handed out. Consider eating before getting on the plane to reduce the amount of time with your mask off.
Resources During Changing Times
Policies and procedures change rapidly. Stay up to date prior to your departure by reading the COVID-19 pages for your departure, connection, and arrival airports. Your airline should send you any special requirements they are implementing. Restrictions and regulations are very regional, so even airports within the same state could have significantly different policies. During my most recent trip, face-coverings were only required in one of the three airports I went through.
Life looks very different post-COVID. Airlines and airports are working together to ramp travel up while still protecting their employees and their customers. Following their guidelines can ensure we will soon be able to travel as much as we desire.