Airline Health Policies During COVID-19: What You Need to Know

Sam KemmisOctober 6, 2020

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Note: As you plan travel during the coronavirus pandemic, please check the CDC and State Department websites for current guidance and travel restrictions.



Updates:

Oct. 6

  • Alaska extends middle seat blocking through November 2020.

  • JetBlue caps flight capacity through December 2020.

Sept. 18

  • Southwest blocks middle seats through November 2020.

Aug. 19

  • Alaska limits capacity on all flights through Oct. 31, 2020.

  • Delta blocks middle seats through December 2020.

  • Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue and United add health screening at check-in.

  • Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Spirit and United add stricter mask rules.

  • Frontier adds no-touch temperature screenings for passengers and crew.

June 26

  • American removes capacity limits on all flights.

June 10

  • Alaska caps all flights at 65% capacity, changes boarding procedures.

May 20

  • JetBlue adds social distancing policies, changes boarding procedures.


If you have upcoming air travel planned, you may be curious and worried about the safety measures enacted by airlines and airports to mitigate the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Here, we have collected the relevant information about how and when airlines are screening customers, sanitizing aircraft and enforcing policies (such as mask requirements) to protect customers.

Bear in mind that the safety of air travel remains uncertain with or without these policies in place, and that you should not take the assurance of the airlines (which have a vested interest in getting you onboard) as health guidance.

That said, some airlines have gone to greater lengths than others to protect customers, so you can use this information to help decide which airlines to travel with (if you must) and which to avoid.

Highlights and key takeaways

  • All the airlines below have introduced enhanced aircraft cleaning and air filtration protocols. They have also reduced or changed in-flight service to reduce contact with crew members. This is great to see, but it does not mean that getting on these planes is “safe.” Social distancing and face covering policies are equally or more important.

  • As of Oct. 6, 2020, all airlines below require face coverings for crew and passengers in line with the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. However, not all airlines have introduced strict penalties for passengers who refuse to comply with these rules, such as losing future flight privileges.

  • The key difference between airline policies lies in how they maintain social distance. Some, like Delta, JetBlue and Southwest have specifically blocked middle seats. Others, like American and United, have provided only vague guidelines about restricting seats when possible. We strongly recommend booking with an airline that has a firm policy in place to ensure you’re not sharing an armrest.

As of Oct. 6, 2020, Delta Air Lines has the best overall health policies, including strict mask enforcement, fully blocking middle seats, and capped flight capacity.

Some seats fully blocked

Strict mask enforcement

Updated boarding procedures

Flight capacity capped

Self-screening required

Alaska

-

American

-

-

-

Delta

Frontier

-

-

Hawaiian

-

-

-

-

JetBlue

-

Southwest

-

-

Spirit

-

-

-

-

United

-

-

Alaska Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • All flight capacity limited through Nov. 30, 2020.

  • Middle seats blocked while booking, but not fully blocked during check-in.

  • Passenger health self-screening required during check-in.

  • Improved boarding procedures.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

American Airlines

On June 26, 2020, American made a surprising change to its capacity policy, removing all restrictions after July 1, 2020, and allowing flights to be 100% full. In other words, you could now find yourself on a completely full AA flight. American Airlines also made some other minor changes to its health and safety policy, such as customer self-screening for symptoms. Yet overall this is a huge step back, and customers should avoid booking with AA so long as it maintains this policy.

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Self-screening for COVID symptoms at check-in.

  • No specific policies regarding blocked middle seats, onboard social distancing, etc.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

Delta Air Lines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Rear-to-forward boarding procedure to reduce contact.

  • Blocked middle seats (and select window/aisle seats) in each cabin.

  • Middle seats fully blocked through Jan. 6, 2020.

  • Passenger health self-screening required during check-in.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

Frontier Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Self-screening: Requires acknowledgement during check-in that you do not have COVID symptoms or are in contact with anyone who does.

  • Rear-to-forward boarding procedure to reduce contact.

  • Temperature screenings for passengers and crew.

  • No current policies regarding blocked middle seats, onboard social distancing, etc.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

Hawaiian Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Aircraft boarded one row at a time.

  • Middle seats blocked while booking, but not fully blocked during check-in.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? No.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

JetBlue Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Social distancing policy ensures you're not seated next to someone you don't know.

  • Capping flight capacity at 70% through 2020.

  • Back-to-front aircraft boarding.

  • Passenger health self-screening required during check-in.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? No.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

Southwest Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Blocked middle seats for flights through November 2020.

  • Boarding in groups of 10.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? No.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

Spirit Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • No specific policies regarding blocked middle seats, onboard social distancing, etc.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

United Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • “For regularly scheduled flights that are expected to be fairly full, letting you change your flight with no change fee or receive a travel credit for your trip..”

  • No specific policies regarding blocked middle seats, onboard social distancing, etc.

  • Passenger health self-screening required during check-in.

  • Boarding rear-to-forward by rows; individually wrapped hand sanitizer wipes handed out at boarding.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

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