Is air travel safe? Travelers have been asking this age-old question since the dawn of commercial aviation, and all these years later there is still no definitive answer. Air travel safety, like many things in life, is both relative and dependent on a number of different variables. Experts all agree that the most dangerous part of any journey by air is the drive to and from the airport, making flying relatively safe compared to travel by automobile. Aviation safety also varies widely depending on plane type, country of flight origin, pilot and crew training, aircraft maintenance, and airport security. But in spite of the fact that accidents and incidents have sometimes occurred, even under the best of circumstances, our insatiable desire to travel has always kept us returning to the skies to explore all the wonders our world has to offer.
And then 2020 arrived, bringing with it the worrisome variable of potential Covid-19 contagion on board planes, providing a new and unique reason for air travelers to fear flying.
Since worldwide air travel came to a virtual standstill in March with the closing of borders around the globe, the concern of contracting the novel coronavirus on board an aircraft has been at the forefront of most air travelers’ minds. The lack of data at the onset of the pandemic on exactly how this virus spreads, sporadic test shortages, and wide inconsistencies in mitigation policies from country to country, and even state to state, have combined to bring flying anxiety to an all-time high. But the good news is that medical professionals have determined that the risk of contracting the virus onboard an aircraft is actually quite low due to the new cleaning, air filtering, and hygiene procedures that have been put in place by all major airlines. In an effort to help our clients make informed decisions on when or whether to fly again, Frontiers would like to share with you the latest efforts and policies currently in effect for travelers.
Masks and Social Distancing
All major airports and commercial airlines around the world have instituted mandatory mask requirements for all staff and travelers, and have added floor signs to all areas of the airport to assist with social distancing. Face masks need to cover the passenger’s nose and mouth and must be worn at all times on board unless a food and beverage service is offered. Airlines are taking these mask requirements extremely seriously and are banning passengers from future travel for violating these rules. For families traveling with small children, mask rules apply for all flyers over two years of age at the time of travel. Many carriers require face masks to be changed every four hours, so travelers need to be sure to bring a sufficient number of masks for the entire length of their flight.
American Airlines signage about mask policy at Little Rock Airport.
Touchless check-in, baggage check, and boarding passes
In order to minimize contact with passengers’ belongings, airlines have put touchless processes into place for check-in, baggage check, and boarding passes. All travelers are encouraged to utilize online check-in and mobile boarding passes or airport self-check-in kiosks and tag their own checked bags before placing them on the luggage belts. Plexiglass shields have been installed at ticket and gate counters to add an extra barrier between travelers and airline staff for those requiring additional in-person assistance. Passengers may also be asked to scan their own boarding passes at TSA security checkpoints and the gate prior to boarding the aircraft.
Airport and aircraft cleaning
Airport and aircraft cleaning and air filtration are probably the most important aspects of air travel safety during the Covid-19 pandemic, and airlines are doing everything in their power to provide the cleanest possible environments from check in to baggage claim. Airports are taking extra steps to disinfect all surfaces frequently throughout the day and are providing counter staff with sanitizing products for spot cleaning as necessary. Hand sanitizing stations are located throughout terminals and passengers are now permitted to carry up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer through security.
Staff cleaning seats in American Airlines’ Admirals Club in DFW International Airport.
All major US carriers are utilizing electrostatic sprays in gate areas, jetways, and onboard planes that are applied with special sprayers to disperse a disinfectant mist that clings to surfaces and continuously kills up to 99.9% of germs and viruses on contact.
Members of Delta’s line maintenance crew disinfect the surfaces of the cabin including tray tables, seat backs, and in-flight entertainment screens in a Boeing 757 in Atlanta, Ga., on Friday, March 6, 2020. The sanitizing solution is the same solution used to sanitize hospitals nationwide. (Chris Rank for Rank Studios)
Crews are cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces such as armrests, tray tables, video monitors, overhead bins, and lavatories between each flight and many are providing passengers with hygiene kits at boarding that include sanitizing wipes for those who wish to do an additional cleaning of their seat area.
Traveler using hand wipe to sanitize his hands on board an American Airlines flight.
Several airlines are still blocking adjacent seats to allow for social distancing on board, and those who are not are now allowing flyers to purchase additional seats for personal space if desired.
First class meal (hermetically sealed) on American Airlines.
To ensure the cleanest possible air in flight airlines are recirculating cabin air every two to six minutes with fresh outside air or air that has passed through newly installed hospital-grade HEPA filters that also eliminate up to 99.9% of airborne particles, including viruses.
Delta flight attendant, Brittany Anderson (IFS – ATL) sanitizing high-touch surfaces prior to boarding passengers.
In an effort to allow airline passengers to purchase tickets with confidence for future travel, all major airlines have put policies into place that allow passengers to make at least one free change to tickets purchased this year (ticketing deadlines and travel date restrictions may apply). In addition, American, Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines have all joined Southwest Airlines and indefinitely eliminated change fees for tickets purchased for travel within the USA and to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (Basic Economy fares excluded). Similar fee waivers are also being offered by select carries for frequent flyer mileage bookings and for same-day stand by travel.
Several members of Frontiers’ staff have traveled domestically by air during the Covid-19 pandemic and would be happy to speak with any clients who have questions or concerns about flying at this time. And for travelers who have made the decision to get back in the skies, call the Air Team at Frontiers and allow our experts to assist you in securing airline reservations and tickets for your next travel adventure!
Flight Attendants ready to welcome guests on Iberia Airlines.
Some photos courtesy of Delta, America, and Iberia Airlines.