Taking Flight in 2020: What to Expect From Airline Travel

by Kelly Johnson
airline travel safety

Travel during a global pandemic looks different than before. Airlines have adopted strenuous protocols to ensure passenger safety, from deep cleanings to partnering with TSA for precautions at airports. Every airline has different protocols, so always check with your AAA Travel Agent when booking or before traveling.

In general, allow extra time for screening and boarding, as well as for connecting between flights. In July, Certified Travel Agent and AAA Travel Trainer Ben Wacker presented a webinar on what you can expect when flying this year. These are the most common protocols that larger airlines in the U.S. are following.

View the Taking Flight webinar here and see upcoming AAA Travel webinars at AAA.com/Events.

Note that connecting time between flights has been adjusted to allow for disinfecting. It takes an extra 10 to 12 minutes for cleaning between flights. Additionally, flight schedules may change based on demand and evolving rules. Airlines will have more frequent schedule changes than you’re used to in order to accommodate safety protocols.

Arrival at the Airport

Be prepared for restricted services, reduced hours for stores and restaurants, floor decals that show you which direction you should walk to maximize social distancing, and don’t forget your face mask. Expect:

  • Extra focus on cleaning and disinfecting high traffic areas, especially boarding wait areas and kiosks. Airlines have partnered with TSA/airports to ensure waiting and boarding areas are disinfected.
  • Airports have added plexiglass barriers at kiosks to create a separation between airline staff and travelers.
  • There will be hand sanitizer stations throughout airports.
  • There will be floor decals indicating traffic flow, so be sure to pay attention to which direction you should be walking.
  • Masks for all customers and airline employees are required throughout your travel journey. Expect to wear your mask from the time when you enter the airport to when you leave the airport at your final destinations. There are exceptions for longer flights when eating or drinking. Airport security may ask you to briefly remove your mask for identification purposes.
  • Some airline clubs are closed or have limited capacity; amenities may be restricted.
  • Airport restaurants and shops have reduced hours or service, and some may remain closed.

Airport Security

Be sure to allow additional time for the screening process at the security checkpoint.

  • Hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces is now allowed through security checkpoints but will require additional screening. All other liquids, gels and aerosols remain at 3.4 oz. each carried in a one-quart clear plastic bag.
  • The TSA agent may ask you to scan your own boarding pass.
  • TSA agents will be wearing masks and gloves.

Gate Boarding

  • Most airlines will board by row (instead of zones), starting with the rear of the aircraft. Pay attention to your row number and the boarding announcements.
  • Airlines will board smaller groups, about 10 people at a time.

On Your Flight

  • You’ll find increased sanitization protocols. Airlines will disinfect the entire plane between flights and perform nightly deep cleanings. Some airlines will offer hand sanitizing wipes.
  • Airlines are using an air filtration (HEPA) systems that extract more than 99.9% of particles, including viruses.
  • Flight attendants will have cleaning checklists to maintain safety protocols during the flight.
  • Most middle seats are blocked and some aisle seats may be blocked based on the size of the aircraft to allow social distancing. Most airlines will allow families to sit together; you can arrange this with your AAA Travel Agent.
  • Load capacity. Flights are around 60-70% capacity whenever possible.
  • Non-essential materials, such as in flight magazines, will not be available.
  • Food and beverage service will be reduced or discontinued depending on the length of your flight.
  • Deplaning​. Once you arrive at your destination, flight attendants will call you row by row to exit the plane.

Travel Tips from AAA

  • Don’t travel if you are sick. If you have a fever or any other symptoms, stay home. Some airlines have included a health screening as part of the check in process.
  • Check all entry requirements. The rules may change between booking a flight and your travel date. Contact your AAA Travel Agent prior to your departure for the most up to date information.
  • Eat before you leave. Restaurants may be closed and food may not be available on your flight.
  • Don’t forget your mask and hand sanitizer.
  • Reconfirm your flight and complete online check in 24 hours in advance.
  • Download the app for the airline that you’re flying with. This means you won’t have to print a boarding pass and reduces physical touch points during check in.
  • Open your air vent and keep the floor area clean (this is where the air intake is) to allow for circulation throughout the cabin.
  • Talk to the flight crew if you don’t feel safe. If you feel the airline is not adhering to rules, talk to your flight attendant.

Questions? Your AAA Travel Agents are standing by to assist you with booking flights to wherever you wish to travel. They can also answer any questions you have about airline protocols and procedures for safety.

Contact your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-750-5386 or visit AAA.com/Travel.

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