Is it safe to fly again? What are airports and airlines doing to keep passengers safe? What has changed since the last time you flew? To help make travelers feel a little more comfortable about flying right now, Bébé Voyage elicited a pilot’s advice on air travel during Covid19 and heard his take on the precautions that airlines, airports, and staff are taking to minimize any exposure.
A Pilot’s View
Like all of my peers, my professional aim is to maximize the safety of every aircraft movement in any and every way. In today’s world, safely dealing with COVID-19 is, as this article will show, a part of our daily routine now. I currently work for one of the largest airlines operating in the United States and have been a professional pilot for 20 years. I’ve flown every category of airliner, with the majority of my experience in a 777 as both Captain and First Officer.
As adults with decades of experiences under our belts, we would like to think we’ve come closer to understanding life’s concepts. But after months of quarantine and social distancing, few of us could have ever been as well acquainted with the notion of “cabin fever” as we are now. Thankfully the country, and the world, are opening up.
Is It Safe To Fly Again?
As our country and others begin to reopen, we keep hearing about this “new normal.” It’s true, many of the things we did nearly unconsciously prior to the pandemic have new aspects that require some forethought. Traveling is no different. Since the entire travel industry has been one of the worst-hit segments of the global economy, the changes are more extensive than elsewhere. Some of these changes are wonderful, though. Lower cost of travel, faster security checkpoints, more space onboard the aircraft, and an unprecedented focus on cleanliness at airports and the airplanes themselves are the most welcomed of these changes. Others can be a bit more cumbersome and problematic. Travel restrictions, wearing masks for hours, strict social distancing, minimal onboard service, and the anxiety that comes along with these new rules are all aspects that add to our stressful times. Despite the annoyances though, they are making it safe to fly again.
In an effort to attract passengers back to air travel, many airlines are offering nearly unheard-of fares. Since these deals are constantly changing, it is best to sign up for email alerts from your preferred airline or visit their website directly. As recently as a week ago, Southwest Airlines was offering their all-time lowest prices (adjusted for inflation). Most carriers are doing the same. With a little work and proper timing, you can find the best deal you’ve ever found for air travel.
Once you’ve saved yourself a bunch of money on your airfare, you will want to think about what you’ll need to do differently for the trip. Masks are a must for everyone in your party. Children and anyone with medical conditions may be exempt on a case-by-case basis that will vary from airline to airline, but plan on having to wear your mask from the moment you enter the airport until the moment you walk out at your destination. Eating and drinking are the obvious exceptions for a mask. Be forewarned that these policies are constantly in flux, and you may not be allowed to board or continue your itinerary if you refuse to wear your mask onboard. Check with your specific airline for details.
Upon arrival at your departure airport, you will notice that it is easier than ever to find a good parking spot close to the terminal. You will be even happier to see that the queue at security is smaller than it’s been since 9/11.TSA is also allowing up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in carry-on bags until further notice. Be mindful that the hand sanitizer will go through extra screening, so just allot extra time if you decide to bring it. Once through security, the most obvious change is that many of the stores and restaurants throughout the airport are still closed. Plan accordingly. Have food for your trip in your bags, especially if you are traveling with children or with anyone who has dietary restrictions. Liquid restrictions by TSA remain unchanged other than the aforementioned hand sanitizer rule. And while the lack of food is problematic, the fact that nearly all of the coffee shops, including most Starbucks, are still closed can be a serious issue before a flight lasting several hours. If you need your caffeine, hit a drive thru en route to the airport.
After arriving at your departure gate, things begin to flow a little more normally. The only real difference is that the zones used for boarding will be smaller in order to better accommodate social distancing. You will find that most airlines are refusing to allow passengers in the middle seats for the next few months, with an exception for members of the same household. In fact, MIT just released a study where they found that when the middle seat is blocked, your chances of being mortally infected with Covid19 is reduced by 50%.
Onboard announcements will convey the expectations from your airline on how to treat one another. More than anything, use common sense. Your neighbors share the same anxieties, so be as sensitive as you hope they will be.
The onboard meals and beverage service will be more spartan than ever. Most meal services have been replaced by a small sealed food option, while alcoholic beverages have all but disappeared from airlines. Normal beverage service is usually no more than a canned soft drink. I would recommend cleaning the top of your can before opening it and using a straw to minimize putting your mouth where others’ hands have been.
Cleanliness Of Aircraft
Most passengers are now wiping off their seats before sitting down. And while it never hurts to be safe, most major airlines have stepped up their cleaning to the highest of standards. They are using non-chemical, cutting-edge techniques implemented in hospitals and other health care centers. Between electrostatic disinfectant sprays, HEPA filters that remove 99.97% of airborne particles, a nightly deep clean, and sterilization throughout the day, an airplane might just be one of the safest places you can be outside of your own home! Definitely don’t go drinking the water from the lavatory, but take comfort in the fact that your seat onboard has never been cleaner. And if you really want to take it one step further, the sunrise flight might just be the cleanest since the deepest clean gets done overnight.
Additionally, here are what some major airlines around the world are doing to keep their airplanes sanitized and ensuring that it is safe to fly again.
Have A Safe Flight
Armed with this information, I hope you can look forward to your next flight while also feeling that it is safe to fly again. The only other important thing to remember is that the behavior of people has changed a little. Most travelers are not as keen to strike up conversations with strangers as they have been in the past. Others may be overly attentive of behavior that, in their opinion, is either too risky or too cautious. We can all help by following the stated rules and not judging our fellow travel companions. In time, there is no doubt that the “new normal” will start to look a little like the old days.
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