Flying During a Pandemic

An Astrophysics Traveler at U.S. Airports LAX, AUS, & DFW:

The number of Americans flying has steadily increased since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported record-low checkpoint traffic numbers in the spring of 2020. Today, cities around the world are beginning to reopen, more travelers are getting on planes, and airlines are reinstating routes, with enhanced safety measures. Despite low traffic numbers and lifted restrictions, many travelers are wondering… how safe is it to fly?

Our own Astrophysics traveler was recently at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Austin (AUS), and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to share their airport travel experience. When traveling through LAX, ranked in 2018 as the second busiest airport in the US, it was a ghost town. TSA has reported a drastic decrease in passengers traveling, with airlines cutting up to 70% of their capacity and multiple reports of cancelled flights. Airports have new infrastructure and protocols in place to protect travelers and air travel employees. In addition to deep-cleaning procedures and CDC recommended guidelines on how to protect yourself and others, here are top changes you can expect to see at airports:

Masks are required at the airport and on planes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone wear a face covering when out in public, so be prepared to wear one in airports and on your flight too. Travelers are required to wear face masks throughout the screening process, with TSA agents asking travelers to pull their masks down to confirm their identity. While in flight, our Astrophysics’ traveler observed passengers were vigilant and took safety protocols seriously. Some were never seen removing their masks, while other passengers briefly dropped down their masks for snacks only.

There are new TSA procedures.

TSA has made adjustments to address traveler health and safety concerns. Throughout LAX, AUS, and DFW, travelers are expected to practice social distancing at all times — reminders are located on posters, floor markers, and announced via intercom.

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Food and beverage services are reduced or eliminated.

Many airlines are making changes to their in-flight food and drink services. The majority of domestic airlines stopped all food service to limit contact and interaction. LAX, AUS, and DFW airports, restaurants, and bars were closed. Aircrafts are cleaned using an extensive checklist provided by the airlines. These protocols include; disinfecting high-touch areas, and removing all non-essential items from the seat pockets. Some airlines are even providing passengers with individual care bags containing water, sanitizing wipes, and in-flight snacks.

Flights have fewer passengers – sometimes.

On one airline from LAX to AUS, middle seats were completely empty and the plane was at approximately 25% capacity. The flight from DFW to LAX on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner was approximately 80% full, with middle seats occupied. This occurred despite the number of seats displayed as unoccupied on the online app, indicating that apps are not always a reliable resource for capacity and seating information. TSA is not mandating empty seats, however Southwest has released a statement saying their flights will be leaving every middle seat open through October 31st, 2020. Delta Air Lines will also be leaving middle seats open until September 31st, 2020 to give passengers additional space.
The boarding and deplaning process may take longer.

Major airlines have announced changes to boarding procedures that encourage social distancing between passengers. Passengers can anticipate longer wait times to board and earlier check-in times. Some airlines are sticking to their regular boarding protocols, while others have implemented new processes, i.e. American Airlines’ nine-group system with extended boarding times in between groups.

Conclusion – Is it Safe to Fly?

Flying is a personal choice, and should be subject to an individual level of comfort and purpose of travel. Our Astrophysics traveler sums up the experience as informative and insightful, saying “flyers are aware of the new normal and are abiding by the necessary precautions in place to minimize risk and increase safety. I was not discouraged by my recent traveling experience and would fly again in the near future.”

Be sure to follow the recommended CDC guidelines and take extra precautions – including social distancing, extra masks, and plenty of hand sanitizer. From the Astrophysics family to yours, we wish you safe travels and good health.

Disclaimer: This is a personal weblog collaboration. Astrophysics makes no representation as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of this information. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.

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