The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has upended flights across the globe, but as more destinations begin to open up, a clearer picture of what flying will look like amid the pandemic is emerging. Airlines are issuing additional hygiene and safety guidelines in order to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. To get a sense of what’s changed, take a look at these coronavirus flight safety precautions.
Before making any travel plans, it’s important to keep in mind the current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of June 28, the CDC guidelines for traveling in the United States recommend people stay home. The CDC warns against flying “because travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19.”
Dr. John Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., clinical professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley School of Public Health, echoes this sentiment. "Everyone should [avoid flying] unless there are compelling reasons for plane travel. Airports and planes necessitate your being in an enclosed space for a prolonged period of time with many people and no social distancing," Swartzberg previously told Elite Daily.
The CDC also advises against nonessential international travel, and some countries have implemented large travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines for U.S. travelers due to the rise in U.S. COVID-19 cases. As of Tuesday, July 28, only about 30 countries are allowing U.S. travelers to enter, and many of them put restrictions in place for potential travelers.
If you must travel, there are general recommendations you'll want to know about before you head to the airport so you can protect yourselves and others. They include cleaning your hands often, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, avoiding close contact with others, wearing a face covering, and avoiding traveling when you're sick.
Even though the the novel coronavirus is thought to mainly spread through respiratory droplets in person-to-person contact, you'll want to take extra precautions — like wiping down your surrounding areas in an airport and on a plane — due to the nature of how viruses spread in general. Kirsten Koehler, Ph.D., MS, associate professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, previously told Elite Daily, "A lot of [the spread of viruses] is [due to] these touched surfaces, and on planes, these are highly, highly touched surfaces."
For travelers who have to get on a plane, here are the coronavirus precautions currently being implemented:
Transportation To/From Airport
If you're catching a shared ride to get the airport, you'll want to be prepared to follow certain health and safety guidelines. As of June 10, Lyft requires all riders to stay home if they're feeling sick, and if you are well and take a Lyft, riders and drivers are required to wear face coverings, and sanitize hands. Your driver will also be required to leave the front seat empty and keep windows open when possible in order to maximize air flow.
If you're taking Uber, as of May 18, you and your driver are required to wear a face covering, and it's recommended to sit in the back seat and roll down the windows when you can.
If you're opting to take public transportation, you'll want to follow advice from the CDC, which includes wearing a face covering, sanitizing your hands frequently, maintaining your distance from others, and staying at home if you're sick. You should also check your local public transit schedules for any changes in service due to the pandemic.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has implemented adjustments as of June 26, which aim to increase social distancing and reduce direct contact whenever possible, without compromising everyone's security. This includes a reduced number of security checkpoints in airports. In the security line, the TSA has added visual reminders on the floors to remind you of the proper spacing to keep social distancing. You'll also keep possession of your boarding pass and scan it on the boarding pass reader yourself, in order to minimize contact with the TSA agent. You may wear a mask during the screening process, but the TSA agent may ask you to adjust your face covering at any time during the process.
TSA is also allowing people to bring one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12 ounces per passenger, in carry-on bags until further notice. Since the container exceeds the standard allowance, it'll need to be screened separately.
Airports across the United States, such as Los Angeles International Airport and Denver International Airport, require all passengers and visitors to wear face coverings when entering the facility. This means you'll need to make sure your face is properly covered when you're walking around the airport, including in the terminal. If it's not required at the airport you're heading to, it's still a good idea to follow the CDC's hygiene and safety guidelines while you're inside the facility.
Airlines have updated processes for boarding to encourage social distancing. JetBlue, Delta and United now board customers according to their assigned rows, working from the back of the aircraft up to the front in order to reduce the number of travelers passing each other to get to their seats.
Southwest Airlines board passengers in groups of 10. American Airlines still boards based on ticket type, status, and priority, but agents may reassign seats at the last minute to increase social distancing or to seat families together.
There will be different guidelines depending on which airline you fly. Most major airlines began requiring customers to wear face coverings during the flight, as announced back in May, and the requirement will continue for the foreseeable future. You'll need to wear a face covering while flying, except for very young children or anyone with a condition that prevents them from wearing one. You can remove your mask when eating or drinking.
When it comes to socially distancing on the flight, airlines are taking different approaches. Many major airlines are blocking seats to increase social distancing, so your flight may be emptier than usual. Delta is capping flights to about 60% of capacity through Sept. 30. JetBlue is blocking middle seats through Sept. 8, and Southwest is capping flights to about 67% of capacity through Sept. 30.
American Airlines, though, began booking every seat on its flights as of Wednesday, July 1. If there are free seats available in your ticketed cabin once boarding is complete, you can switch spots. American Airlines is also limiting food and drink service in the Main Cabin based on flight length and destination.
When it comes to deciding to fly, it's important to take into consideration all the above guidelines and the expert advice. And if you do need to get on a plane during the pandemic, you can also check the websites for the airline you'll be flying with and the airports you'll be traveling to, for what other specific coronavirus safety precautions you should prepare for.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Dr. John Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., clinical professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health's Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology
Dr. Kirsten Koehler, Ph.D., M.S., associate professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health