Before the coronavirus pandemic emerged, the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) provided service to more than 44,000 flights with 2.7 million airline passengers. Those numbers took a sharp nosedive in March, April, and May when Americans remained at home in quarantine and self-isolation.
U.S airline passenger revenue loss due to the coronavirus outbreak is expected to amount to $64 billion in 2020. Even as airfare resumes this summer, the experiences of passing through an airport and flying on an airline will look and feel much different for passengers and crew members alike.
Even leaders in the industry, such as Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, are predicting seismic shifts in air travel.
“We should be prepared for a choppy, sluggish recovery even after the virus is contained,” Bastian said in a letter to employees in April. “I estimate the recovery period could take two to three years.”
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a department of Homeland Security, security screening checkpoints at airports across the country are implementing changes to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Staggered use of security checkpoint lanes
- Metering passengers to increase distance between individuals
- Routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces
- One liquid hand sanitizer permitted in carry-on bags until further notice
Individual Airline Requirements and Safety Measures
Beyond the adjusted policies of airports themselves, each airline has established its own set of travel guidelines and safety precautions.
United Airlines, for example, posted this list of cleaning and safety protocols on its website:
- Using electrostatic spraying on all aircraft before departure for enhanced cabin sanitation.
- Using state-of-the-art high-efficiency (HEPA) filters on all United aircraft to circulate air and remove up to 99.97% of airborne particles.
- Reducing touchpoints by temporarily shutting down self-service kiosks, asking you to scan your boarding pass, and encouraging you to use united.com or the United app.
- Installing sneeze guards at key interaction points like baggage and check-in counters.
United Airlines now also requires passengers to acknowledge they don’t have symptoms of COVID-19 during the check-in process.
Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, implemented on May 22 the requirement of face coverings for all customers at airports and while traveling. Masks are available to passengers who forget their own at home.
Southwest also plans to keep middle seats open through at least September 30 to “provide Customers more personal space onboard.” Like other airlines, Southwest has implemented strict cleaning and sanitation measures, including:
- Both an electrostatic disinfectant and an anti-microbial spray applied on every surface of the aircraft, killing viruses on contact and forming an anti-microbial coating or shield for 30 days.
- Sani-Cide EX3, a broad-spectrum disinfectant, used to clean commonly used areas before every flight
- Deep clean each plane from nose to tail for nearly 6-7 hours every night
Though exact protocols vary between airlines, one thing is for certain: a new era of air travel has arrived. In addition to intense cleaning and safety efforts, passengers can expect higher fares, preflight health checks, and less free food until the threat of the coronavirus has disappeared.