Is it Safe to Fly Again?

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Airports And Airlines Policies, Procedures — Keeping You Safer

Is it Safe to Fly Again?

Are you ready to fly — to do business; or reunite, refresh, escape?

According to Airlines for America, representing major carriers, passenger numbers in recent months fell to the lowest levels since the 1950s, with about 75% of U.S. flights less than half full. And even though as of this past Memorial Day, demand was down about 90% from last year, the U.S. airlines and the aviation industry are working to get you in the air again, while keeping you safe.

New suggestions and rules are being established to gain your trust, from the time you get to the airport until you’re at your destination. Here’s a summary and suggestions:

Planning your flight

— Check airports and airlines Covid-19 updates as you plan.

— Carry — and use — a mask, wipes and hand sanitizer. If you don’t wear gloves, carry tissues to avoid touching public objects. And remember to keep your hands from your face.Most Popular In: Travel

— Place belts, wallets, keys, phones and such into your carry-on bag to avoid any extra contacts as you go through security.

— Download airline apps for touchless boarding, to minimize times you have to hand over documents or touch screens. Some airlines have shut down self-service kiosks. Others, such as United, have touchless kiosks that allow you to print bag tags using your own devices to scan a code.

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— Avoid handling cash, which many transactions may not even accept. Get a tap-to-pay card or set up smartphone payments like Apple Pay.

— Airport shops may be closed, and not all airlines are serving food on flights, so bring your delectibles onboard.

Getting to the airport

— Seek a trusted driver to drop you at the departure area in their own car. Many airports now allow only ticketed passengers and people helping them check in to enter terminals.

— Although Uber or Lyft may provide cleaning supplies, if you use the driving service, you can wipe down the seat, belt and door handle with your own supplies entering and (courteously) before exiting. The driving services are not allowing ride shares, and require drivers and passengers to wear masks.

— Learn your airport’s current policies on drop-off and parking. Many airports have closed long-term parking lots, but are keeping daily and hourly garages open.

Screenings at airports

A TSA officer checks a man's ID at a screening checkpoint at...
A TSA officer checks a man’s ID at a screening checkpoint at Orlando International Airport. The … [+] SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Transportation Security Admininistration (TSA), and the National Transportation Safety Board recently issued guidelines (not federal mandates) for passenger screenings through this summer.

Social distancing requirements are maintained at security checkpoints, and hygiene has been improved in airports and on planes. TSA officers are required to wear face masks, and the agency encourages travelers to do so in departure halls and gate areas.

Other new traveler health requirements while going through security include:

— scanning your own paper or electronic boarding passes instead of handing them to a TSA officer.

— placing food into a clear plastic bag and removing it from carry-on bags, much as you would small toiletries. This way TSA officers don’t have to remove and handle these goods if they set off an alarm in the X-ray scanner.

Airport changes

Most airports have increased hand sanitizer stations and cleaning rates, and many are requiring all passengers to wear masks. Many airports now use Continuous Air and Surface Pathogen Reduction (CASPR), which sanitizes air and surfaces by converting oxygen and moisture into hydrogen peroxide.

Pittsburgh International recently became the first American airport to use robots with UV-C rays to clean and disinfect the floors in high-traffic areas. And individual airlines are upgrading safety changes at customer service areas. For example, United Airlines has started using sneeze guards and providing touchless kiosks to print bag tags using a smartphone.

The Department of Homeland Security, which includes TSA and customs, is exploring temperature checks and thermal scanning at airports. But the union that represents TSA screeners has so far balked at the possibility of Covid-19 testing at the airport. Frontier Airlines started taking travelers’ temperatures, but so far most airlines feel it’s the government’s responsibility to perform health screenings.

On the plane

A sip with a mask.
During the Corona pandemic it is very hard to find a carrier to take you home. A lot of new … [+] GETTY

Airlines are boarding fewer people at a time to avoid crowding at the gate and on the jet bridge, and some are asking people to scan their own boarding passes.

Most airlines are requesting passengers to keep masks on throughout the flight, and airlines such as JetBlue have started requiring crew and travelers to wear them onboard, except to eat and drink. But rules can be confusing for people flying with multiple airlines, and mask policies not always followed.

On-board air filters are highly effective at removing pathogens. Commercial planes recycle cabin air using High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters which catch 99 percent of airborne microbes, according to the International Air Transportation Association.

Using devices like foggers to disinfect cabins between flights, airlines have begun more frequent and thorough cleaning of cabins.

Examples: Alaska Airlines increased its cleaning procedures between flights. United is working with the Cleveland Clinic to determine the best guidelines to disinfect surfaces on aircraft and in the airport. Boeing announced a “Confident Travel” initiative to weigh new technology like ultraviolet light disinfecting systems that reduce pathogens. Delta is using an “electrostatic sprayer,” which releases a mist of disinfectant. American Airlines planes are cleaned throughout the day and deeply cleaned for more than six hours every night.

Passengers can augment this extra cleaning by wiping down seating areas and lavoratories after use with disinfectant wipes, and by staying aware of minimal touching.

Social distancing is difficult onboard, especially as planes fill up. Airlines leave middle seats open when possible to encourage social distancing, but these guidelines are not always being followed.

So, knowing more about these safety measures, are you ready?


  • Lea Lane

    Lea Lane is an award-winning writer and communicator, author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries, and Travel Tales I Couldn't Put in the Guidebooks, available at Amazon as print and Kindle eBook. She writes for magazines, newspapers and on websites, including, The New York Times, Salon, and the Daily Beast. Lea's travel podcast, Places I Remember with Lea Lane, is available wherever you listen to podcasts. She interviews passionate travelers and travel experts around the world. She's authored eight books (including Solo Traveler, finalist for best travel book of the year from the North American Travel Journalists Association). She has contributed to dozens of other books, from encyclopedias to guidebooks. Lea wrote a column called "Going It Alone," for Gannett Newspapers, and was managing editor of "Travel Smart" newsletter. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Visit her web site: Her travel blog is Lea's travel podcast is Places I Remember: Travel Talk with Lea Lane is available wherever you listen to podcasts Like and follow: Tweet her @lealane Follow her at Read less

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