How US Airlines Are Adapting to Ongoing Coronavirus Concerns
As many states and countries reopen from their coronavirus lockdowns, airlines are gradually resuming service. However, there are still several travel advisories and alerts surrounding the coronavirus as cases confirmed in the U.S. have spiked to more than 1.9 million, according to Johns Hopkins University's real-time map.
Airlines are working authorities from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the State Department as they implement rules and regulations for the upcoming travel season.
Whether you’re wondering about safety or considering canceling an upcoming trip, here’s what you need to know about flying on a major U.S. airline this season:
American Airlines plans to resume about 40 percent of its schedule from July 2019 in July 2020, according to a press release. The airline will fly about 55 percent of its domestic schedule and 20 percent of its international schedule.
International service has returned from Dallas-Fort Worth to Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt. Flights to London have increased at Chicago and New York airports. And from Miami, flights have resumed to Antigua, Guayaquil and Quito. More transatlantic services will resume throughout the summer while more flights to Latin America are scheduled to resume throughout September and October.
American Airlines will waive change fees on tickets booked before June 30 for travel through September 30. The rebooked travel must be completed before December 31, 2021. On tickets that are expiring before September 30, the value of the unused ticket can be redeemed for travel through December 31, 2021.
Face masks are required onboard all American Airlines flights, except for very young children or those with a condition that prevents their wearing.
The airline is also adjusting its food and beverage service procedures onboard including eliminating glassware and serving food in individually wrapped portions. Lounge service will resume at 11 Admirals Club locations on June 22, with pre-packaged snacks and a full-service bar however buffets will be eliminated.
American aircraft are cleaned throughout the day with an EPA-approved disinfectant. All international flights receive an even more detailed cleaning each day, which has been enhanced during the outbreak. All crew members have received hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.
Delta Air Lines
Delta is operating significantly reduced service through the summer, operating only 20 percent of its domestic service and 10 percent of its foreign service from last year. Passengers can find a list of exact locations of where they're headed on their website. The majority of its service announced for June is between major hub airports.
The airline has waived change fees for travel already purchased and scheduled through September 30, 2020. Rebooked travel must take place before September 30, 2022. Any trips booked through June 30, 2020, can be changed without a change fee for travel within a year of the purchase date, according to the Delta website.
When it comes to inflight safety precautions, Delta is not only disinfecting its planes between flights but the check-in kiosks and gates at the airport, according to a Delta blog post. Both airline employees and passengers are required to wear face masks while onboard and plexiglass partitions have been installed at check-in points. The airline has also launched a new department aptly named the "Global Cleanliness Division," to ensure cleaning standards.
Through September 30, the airline is limiting cabin capacity to 50 percent full in first class, 60 percent in the main cabin and Delta Comfort+ and 75 percent in Delta One to promote social distancing.
Bookings made from April 1 through June 30 will not be subject to change fees, according to the United website. Rebooked travel must take place within 12 months of the original booking date. Flights booked before March 31 can be canceled for a voucher that must be used within 24 months of the original ticket issue date.
Like many other airlines, United is slowly adding back flights this summer but still, its July schedule will only be 30 percent capacity of what it was at the same time last year, Forbes reported.
United has implemented a new cleaning protocol called United CleanPlus. The initiative provides passengers with their own sanitizing wipes before boarding. Sanitizing procedures aboard the aircraft have been updated to avoid person-to-person contamination. Flight attendants will no longer refill used cups and customers may be asked to throw away their garbage directly into trash carts. Inflight services will include mostly pre-packaged meals and sealed beverages. Passengers should bring their own face coverings for flights.
As part of CleanPlus, passengers will also be required to acknowledge they are symptom-free and will agree to follow coronavirus-inspired policies as part of their check-in process
If the CDC advises the airline that a passenger or employee exhibited coronavirus symptoms, the plane they were on is taken out of service and “sent through a full decontamination process that includes our standard cleaning procedures plus washing ceilings and overhead bins and scrubbing the interior,” according to the airline’s website.
The airline will also notify passengers in advance if their flight is likely to be full.
Southwest hasn't canceled routes or flights due to the virus as none of its destinations are currently considered geographic risks by the CDC.
The airline’s policy already allows travelers to change or cancel their travel plans without penalty, so there’s no need to worry about change fees if you’re canceling an upcoming flight (although a fare difference may apply). Nonrefundable tickets can be used within one year of the original travel date.
On March 4, the airline stepped up its cabin cleaning procedures in response to the spread of the virus. Every single aircraft in the fleet is cleaned for six to seven hours each night. A hospital-grade disinfectant is used on all “high-touch areas such as interior windows and shades, every seatbelt buckle, passenger service units (including the touch buttons that control reading lights and vents that direct personal air), as well as seat surfaces, tray tables, armrests, etc,” the airline shared in a blog post.
Food and beverage service was initially suspended in the wake of coronavirus to limit contact between passengers and crew. However, in May, the airline brought back in-flight drinks and snacks on flights of more than 250 miles. Initially, cans of water with straws and a pouch of snack mix will be available while cups of ice will be available on request. Alcohol will not be served.
JetBlue was the first airline to require passengers to wear masks while flying. The airline has waived all change and cancellation fees for new travel booked through June 30. Cancellations will receive a voucher, valid for 24 months from the initial purchase date.
The airline consolidated operations in major cities like Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Washington D.C. Service in other cities has been temporarily suspended through June 30. Passengers looking for the next available travel date for their destination should search the JetBlue fare finder using the monthly view.
All passengers and crew members are required to wear face coverings while in airports and onboard JetBlue flights.
Alaska Airlines has also enhanced cleaning aboard all aircraft. A thorough overnight cleaning process disinfectants all points that passengers may touch while they’re aboard an Alaska aircraft.
The airline is also focused on maintaining social distancing between passengers as they fly, so it will be offering only a limited number of upgrades in the cabin. Flights less than 350 miles will not have food or beverage service onboard to reduce the risk of person-to-person contamination.
Alaska will be asking passengers to complete a health agreement during check-in beginning June 30, verifying they haven’t had any symptoms of the virus in the past 72 hours or come into contact with someone who did. Passengers will also have to agree to bring and wear a face mask with them, according to the airline.
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The information in this article reflects that of the publishing time above. However, as statistics and information regarding coronavirus rapidly change, some figures may be different from when this story was originally posted. While we strive to keep our content as up to date as possible, we also recommend visiting sites like the CDC or websites of local health departments.