What Flying This Summer Will Look Like
What Flying This Summer Will Look Like
Airports this Memorial Day weekend are likely to be far emptier than usual, but people who plan to travel can expect to encounter lots of changes and new inconveniences.
Take security. As travelers wait in line to be screened, they can expect to see signs and other markings reminding them to maintain their distance from one another, the Transportation Security Administration said on Thursday. The agents checking identification and boarding passes will be wearings masks, gloves and, in some cases, eye protection.
Passengers will also be asked to scan their own boarding passes to limit contagion, the agency said. And because food often triggers alarms, travelers will have to place meals they bring with them in a separate bin so agents don’t have to handle them.
“In the interest of T.S.A. frontline workers and traveler health, T.S.A. is committed to making prudent changes to our screening processes to limit physical contact and increase physical distance as much as possible,” David Pekoske, the agency’s administrator, said in a statement.
Most of the agency’s other rules will remain in place, but one will be relaxed: Passengers can now bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer, up from the standard three ounces.
Airlines have been adopting many changes, too.
Travelers who need to check a bag or print a ticket might find sneeze guards separating them from a ticketing agent, a precaution being taken in some locations by United Airlines and Delta Air Lines. If they opt to use a kiosk, passengers may interact with one that they don’t have to even touch.
In the airport, many shops, restaurants and airline lounges will most likely be closed.
Many airlines have adjusted the boarding process, with some loading planes back to front to limit contact among passengers and others are boarding fewer people at a time to limit crowding at the gate or on the jet bridge.
But while terminals may be largely empty, there’s no guarantee that the same will be true of flights.
Most flights, about three out of four, are more than half empty. But despite a stark decline in the number of people traveling, a small fraction of flights — about one out of every 12 — is more than 70 percent full.
Airlines have taken different approaches to limit the number of people on board.
United said it would prevent middle seats from being purchased, though it might still assign them on fuller flights. It will also let customers rebook a flight if the one for which they are scheduled is more than 70 percent full. Delta said it would cap seating at 50 percent in first class and 60 percent elsewhere. American Airlines has said it will block half of all middle seats on its planes. And Southwest Airlines, which does not assign seats, has said it will leave about a third of its seats empty through July.
On board, most major airlines now require passengers and flight crews to wear face masks, though enforcement of that policy has been lackluster, according to some people who have flown in recent weeks. Food and beverage service has been restricted in many cases and, when available, meals are largely being replaced with snacks in sealed bags and boxes.
Most airlines are cleaning planes regularly, sometimes between every flight, and offering passengers sanitizer, masks and other products to stay clean, too. Delta, for example, is sanitizing every flight using an “electrostatic sprayer,” which releases a mist of disinfectant.
United, which will start doing the same next month, said this week that it was teaming with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic in an effort to ease passenger concerns. Clorox will advise the airline about its disinfection practices, and Cleveland Clinic experts will keep the airline up-to-date on the latest practices and technologies.
The various safety measures that airlines have put in place may reassure some, but most of the traveling public remains at home. As of Wednesday, the number of people screened at T.S.A. airport checkpoints was still more than 90 percent below last year’s levels.