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

Before you go, know what health and safety policies are in place with the airlines.
Sam Kemmis, Kevin BerryAug 12, 2021

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

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



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

Early in the pandemic, and throughout 2020 and the first quarter of 2021, safety policies varied widely from one airline to another. How and when they were screening customers, sanitizing aircraft, and enforcing rules (such as mask requirements) to protect customers were just some of the ways the airlines' policies differed. However, in summer 2021, airlines have mostly aligned and stabilized in terms of their safety procedures.

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 on board, as health guidance. Heed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and delay travel until you are fully vaccinated.

What you need to know

  • Vaccinated employees: In August, United Airlines announced it will require all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by late October, although that timeline may move up. Frontier airlines also announced employees will need to be vaccinated by Oct. 1 or be tested on a weekly basis. Southwest, Delta and American, while encouraging and incentivizing employees to get vaccinated, have said they do not have immediate plans to require it. Delta did institute a policy in the spring requiring new hires to be vaccinated, but the policy doesn't apply to current employees.

  • No more blocked seats: As of May 1, 2021, no major U.S. airline is blocking seats. Planes can be booked to full capacity.

  • Mask up: 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.

  • Boarding the plane: Normal boarding procedures have returned. For a period of time, many airlines were boarding back to front to reduce traveler contact, but this is no longer the case.

  • Cleaning and filtration: Airlines have introduced enhanced aircraft cleaning and air filtration protocols. They have also reduced or changed in-flight service to limit contact with crew members. This is great to see, but it does not mean that getting on these planes is “safe.” Face-covering policies are equally or more important.

  • Eating and drinking: Food and beverage service varies by airline. Many are not serving alcohol for the time being.

Airline-specific COVID policies

To dive deeper into each airline's COVID-era policies, click through to the following external links:


How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.