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

Sam KemmisMay 14, 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:

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 May 11, 2020, all airlines below require face coverings for crew and passengers in line with the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

  • The key difference between airline policies lies in how they maintain social distance. Some, like Alaska, Delta and Hawaiian, have specifically blocked middle seats. Others, like American, 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 June 10, 2020, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines have the best overall policies for ensuring social distance, which includes officially blocking middle seats and capping capacity for all flights.

Some seats blocked

Face coverings required

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 flights capped at 65% capacity.

  • Blocked all middle seats on large aircraft.

  • Improved boarding procedures.

  • Face coverings:

    • 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.

  • Face coverings:

    • 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.

  • Restricted capacity on all flights to 50-60% depending on aircraft type.

  • Face coverings:

    • 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.

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

  • Face coverings:

    • 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.

  • Blocking select seats from booking.

  • Face coverings:

    • 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 (as of May 20).

  • Back-to-front aircraft boarding.

  • Face coverings:

    • 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 Oct. 2020.

  • Boarding in groups of 10.

  • Face coverings:

    • 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:

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

United Airlines

  • Enhanced aircraft cleaning and sanitization.

  • “We'll allow customers on flights that are expected to be closer to full capacity to choose to rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit.”

  • Adjusting seat selection systems “where possible” to avoid some customers sitting next to one another, and alternating window/aisle seats for those in pairs.

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

  • Face coverings:

    • Required for guests? Yes.

    • Required throughout flight? Yes.

    • Required for staff? Yes.

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