Despite travel restrictions amid the global coronavirus pandemic, many people still need to travel.
Airports and airlines are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and local public health officials to come up with the best policies, making changes as new information comes in.
Here’s what passengers are likely to see and experience:
A lot more cleaning. Surfaces can harbor the virus, so airports across the country are cleaning more frequently and paying special attention to disinfecting high-touch areas like handrails, elevator buttons, door handles, countertops and food courts. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, for example, said shuttle buses will be cleaned multiple times a day.
San Francisco International Airport said it has stocked a three-month supply of disinfectant and has begun using battery-operated sprayers.
Some nonjanitorial staff are pitching in as well by sanitizing work areas like gate and check-in counters.
Hand sanitizer everywhere. Passengers are more likely to see hand sanitizer on ticket counters, at boarding gates, customer service desks, baggage service offices and lounges.
Seattle Tacoma airport said it has installed 119 hand-sanitizer dispensers in and around the terminal. Airlines are setting up their own hand-sanitizer dispensers at places like check-in counters and gates.
Changes to checking in. Using the self-service kiosks means touching screens multiple times, so expect reminders from your airline that you can check in by phone. And rather than handing over your phone and your identification to an agent, you may be asked to show it instead.
Self check-in kiosks will be getting multiple wipe-downs a day, but consider carrying your own hand sanitizer and wipes for the journey.
No fingerprint scans. Airport lounges, those sanctuaries for frequent flyers, first-class passengers and airline credit card holders, see a high volume of travelers, and some have started using fingertip scans to admit members. Both Alaska and Delta, though, have suspended use of fingertip entry and are asking passengers to show their boarding pass and identification to gain admission.
Security won’t ease up. The Transportation Security Agency hasn’t adjusted screening procedures. But passengers are being asked to place their wallet, keys, phone and other objects from their pockets inside their carry-on bags, rather than directly in the plastic bins that go through the scanner.
TSA operating procedures require personnel to wear nitrile gloves when screening passengers. Travelers who need to be patted down or have their carry-on bag searched can ask the TSA officer to change gloves before they perform that task.
Flight attendants in gloves. The Association of Flight Attendants — the union representing nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines — has been asking the government and the airlines to implement a list of health and safety changes. Some are beginning to be made by airlines.
On some airlines, including United, flight attendants may be wearing gloves in the cabin. They also will no longer refill drinks — you’ll get a new cup to minimize possible points of contact. Alaska Airlines is encouraging passengers to fill up water bottles in the gate area before boarding, so cups won’t be needed at all; Alaska is also ending its warm towel service in first class, and recycling will be suspended so flight attendants can avoid touching passenger-handled items. The airline is encouraging passengers to wipe down tray tables and armrests with their own disinfectant wipes.
Planes will also undergo enhanced cleaning. Delta Air Lines has begun fogging the interiors of some airplanes arriving from international destinations with disinfectant; United said it will also begin fogging planes arriving into its hubs from international destinations. The fogging, with tray tables lowered and overhead bins and lavatory doors open, is performed after an initial cleaning.
Some international airlines are taking further precautions: Singapore International Airlines, for instance, now requires flight crew to wear masks.
Precautions for international arrivals. Those who have been in Level 3 countries — China, Iran, South Korea and now most of Europe — in the previous two weeks need to stay home for 14 days after returning, monitor their health and practice social distancing.
Travelers arriving from other countries are asked to monitor their health and limit interactions with others for 14 days after returning. Anyone with symptoms should call ahead before seeking medical care.