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How Are Airlines Flying During COVID-19?


August 12, 2020
Categories: Safety, Health, Travel Tips

“Hello, I’m planning to fly to Mexico in a couple of weeks. Can you tell me what travel restrictions I should be aware of?”

More and more members are asking Global Rescue for advice about air travel. There are still plenty of restrictions and new health protocols to navigate, but it is possible to fly safely for business or vacation.

The key to successful travel during the coronavirus pandemic? Research, pre-trip planning and a flexible attitude.

Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue, says having a successful trip is dependent on having the most accurate and timely information.

“The regulations, restrictions and other requirements change frequently and are often inconsistent from location to location,” he said. “It is critical that travelers research the current requirements for all destinations they intend to visit or pass through. Having the most up-to-date information will help you avoid delays or other inconveniences during your travel.”

This includes knowing your airline’s mask requirements, boarding and deplaning procedures, COVID-19 testing and self-quarantine regulations for domestic and international destinations.

Mask Required

The airport will very likely require a mask covering your nose and mouth. You’ll want to have one on as you enter the terminal, at the check-in desk, when going through security and at the boarding gate. The only time you won’t wear it is when the TSA offer asks you to pull it down to match your ID.

“I’ve flown a couple times in June and July and there was really no option to not wear a mask upon entering the airport all the way through boarding the plane,” Bush said. “Everyone was wearing masks.”

You should also plan to wear your mask on the plane during the flight. Some airlines, like Las Vegas-based Allegiant, give you a mask as part of a complimentary health and safety kit when you board.

There’s no “law” requiring you to wear it, but airlines are getting creative in their enforcements. Alaska Air will issue a yellow card to passengers who repeatedly refuse to wear a mask. The back of the card has this warning: “This is your final notice to comply with our policy. Next, we will file a report, which could result in the suspension of future travel on Alaska Airlines.”

The scientific evidence is clear: Social distancing and wearing masks helps prevent people from spreading COVID-19. Masks also protect those who wear them, according to a July study by researchers at UC Davis. In fact, the risk of infection to the wearer is decreased by 65%.

New Boarding Procedures

Many airlines have updated their processes for boarding to encourage social distancing.

According to USA Today, Delta, United, JetBlue and Frontier are boarding passengers from back to front so they don’t have to closely pass one another. Southwest is boarding 10 people at a time, from only one side of the boarding poles located in the gate area, to maintain social distancing requirements. A report from SimpliFyling.com predicting the future of airplane travel post-COVID-19 says passengers could receive a text notification from the airline telling them when it is their turn to board the plane.

Deplaning has changed as well. JetBlue is asking customers to remain seated upon arrival. When the row in front of them has been completely cleared, passengers can stand to collect their carry-on bags and deplane.

Fewer Touch Points

You’ll notice fewer amenities and touchpoints on flights in an effort to limit physical proximity between passengers and crew members. One feature you may have noticed disappearing: shuttle service. Airports like Boston Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts have scaled down shuttle operations and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport shuttle rides have been capped at 15 people.

Whenever possible, try to skip the shuttle and walk to the terminal. One way you can limit interactions (and limit the virus from spreading) is to bypass checking baggage at the airport.

“Anyone who would prefer to spend less time at the airport should consider shipping their baggage,” said Anna Bedney of LuggageForward, a door-to-door luggage and sports equipment delivery service and a Global Rescue Safe Travel partner. “Not checking bags means fewer contact points at the airport, avoiding crowds at check-in line and baggage claim, and in and out of the airport more quickly.”

New Technology

The State of Hawaii wants to ensure visitors are self-quarantining for 14 days and has instituted a Safe Travels system to ensure compliance. Travelers are encouraged to register their travel plans before traveling to the Hawaiian Islands. You can’t even leave the airport until you register and travelers must show the confirmation screen to airport personnel at all three major airports. Then, during the 14-day self-quarantine, travelers will need to log in to the app every day to complete a daily check-in. It’s a thoughtful way to keep travelers and residents safe and can easily roll out to other states and airports.

Atypical Flight Schedules

Fewer passengers flying resulted in grounded planes and discontinued routes. As travelers take to the skies again, airlines are building flight schedules to match demand. Domestic routes increased in July, with American, for example, adding more flights from its hubs. International flights are still limited, but will expand when countries open up their borders.

Travelers should be flexible, as cancellations are part of the new normal for domestic and international flights. Be sure to do your research before making a purchase. In recent months, every major airline has modified their change and cancellation policies.

Testing and Self-Quarantine

Many countries require health screening forms, a COVID-19 test or quarantine upon arrival.

Quarantines vary, from 14 days in Australia at a designated facility to 10 days in Switzerland after registering with the authorities upon arrival.

The Global Rescue member asking the question about flight restrictions for a possible flight to Mexico received the following response from Global Rescue intelligence experts:

“Air travel is possible but you will likely be screened at the airport in Mexico and may be quarantined at your own expense for up to 14 days.  The U.S. Department of State advises against travel to Mexico at this time due to COVID-19.”

Here are a few handy resources to help you with your pre-trip research:

  • Global Rescue intelligence experts update a country restrictions table every weekday in their coronavirus report.
  • Airlines flying to international destinations, like JetBlue, post guide tables online so you know what to expect when you travel.
  • The European Union (EU) offers a map of open countries and which travelers are welcome.
  • International Air Transport Association also has an interactive travel regulations map.

Travel Protection Services

These three items are a must for any traveler today: face mask, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.

We also wouldn’t advise traveling without a fourth item: a Global Rescue travel services membership. Our in-house intelligence, security and medical teams can help you before a trip, such as providing a risk assessment for a particular destination and during a travel, in case you run into coronavirus restrictions or need an emergency medical evacuation.

Global Rescue member Drew from Oregon tapped into this expertise when he needed to travel from Boston to Seattle in early March.

“I couldn’t get a real answer from local government websites or the news,” he said. “The info I got from Global Rescue was definitely helpful for me to figure out what to do with my travel. I made it home safely."


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