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

Sam KemmisMarch 5, 2021
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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:

March 2021

  • Delta Air Lines remains the only U.S. airline blocking middle seats.

  • Most airlines add mask enforcement details per federal guidelines.

Nov. 11, 2020

  • Alaska fully blocking middle seats through Jan. 6, 2021.

Nov. 2, 2020

  • Southwest no longer blocking middle seats after Nov. 30, 2020.

Oct. 6, 2020

  • Alaska extends middle seat blocking through November 2020.

  • JetBlue caps flight capacity through December 2020.

Sept. 18, 2020

  • Southwest blocks middle seats through November 2020.

Aug. 19, 2020

  • 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, 2020

  • American removes capacity limits on all flights.

June 10, 2020

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

May 20, 2020

  • 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.

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

  • As of March 5, 2021, Delta Air Lines offers the best overall health and safety policies. It is the only airline still blocking middle seats.

  • 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.

  • Federal mask mandates are now in effect for all travel hubs, including airports and airplanes. That is, all passengers must now wear masks on all flights.

  • Airlines still differ in how they communicate when masks should be worn while eating or drinking. Some airlines now specifically enforce policies that require masks be worn between bites and sips.

Some seats fully blocked

Strict mask language

Flight capacity capped

Self-screening required

Alaska

-

-

American

-

-

Delta

Frontier

-

-

-

Hawaiian

-

-

-

JetBlue

-

-

Southwest

-

-

-

Spirit

-

-

-

-

United

-

-

-

Alaska Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

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

  • Improved boarding procedures.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for passengers? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? Yes.

American Airlines

American Airlines was one of the first U.S. airlines to remove capacity limits.

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms at check-in.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for passengers? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? Yes.

Delta Air Lines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

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

  • Middle seats fully blocked through April 30, 2021.

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

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for passengers? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? Yes.

Frontier Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Self-screening: Requires acknowledgment during check-in that you do not have COVID-19 symptoms or are in contact with anyone who does.

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

  • Temperature screenings for passengers and crew.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for passengers? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? No.

Hawaiian Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Aircraft boarded one row at a time.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for passengers? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? Yes.

JetBlue Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Back-to-front aircraft boarding.

  • 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.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? Yes.

Southwest Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Boarding in groups of 10.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for passengers? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? Yes.

Spirit Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for passengers? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? No.

United Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

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

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

  • Face coverings:

    • Strict policy for passengers without masks? Yes.

    • Required for passengers? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

    • Prolonged mask removal discouraged? No.

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