In the current situation, relatively few people feel safe flying. That is likely to change soon, as many of us start to consider taking a much-needed vacation or required business trip before the pandemic is brought fully under control. Most airports and airlines around the world are making security and safety changes due to COVID-19 that are also likely to stick around after the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
Guidance for Travelers
There are a number of new security and safety processes to be aware of for anyone choosing (or required) to travel at this time:
Extended Security Measures
Airlines and airports alike are taking measures to ensure that infection control needs are met at all stages. Some airports are only allowing ticketed passengers in the terminal. Be sure to look up the restrictions at your departure airport prior to leaving your home or hotel.
Travelers should expect to see temperature checks during boarding, mask requirements in terminals and on planes, and restrictions on baggage. A number of airlines also are restricting hand baggage to a personal item. You should still keep all medications, money, identification and fragile electronics with you instead of in your checked bags.
Time Considerations and Other Restrictions
Travelers should expect to spend more time in the airport. Although things should improve in this regard, the TSA is understaffed at many airports. Airlines may also have lower staffing levels at gates.
For right now, flight schedules are significantly reduced. Rental car availability may also be reduced, and social distancing has reduced the capacity of trams, monorails, and other in-airport transit systems.
Terminal restaurants may be closed or offering only carry out, and most airlines have curtailed in-flight service, especially in economy class.
You may also see private security playing a role in monitoring social distancing and performing ID, ticket, and temperature checks at terminal entrances.
It’s unclear what impact COVID-19 will have on ticket prices. There is likely to be a tug-of-war between the airlines’ needs to sell seats to stay afloat and the costs of reduced demand and capacity. Given the uncertainty, travelers should budget to pay more, perhaps considerably more, for a flight.
ID Verification and Payment
The pandemic may accelerate the adoption of biometrics for boarding instead of the use of boarding passes. Digital boarding passes are likely to be encouraged. The TSA has been working on contactless ID verification.
For payment, paying in advance for tickets remains the best option, but paying at the terminal for checked baggage may require the use of a contactless card or a phone payment system.
Some countries are placing significant restrictions, including 14-day quarantine, on travelers from outside the borders. Travelers should research destinations before purchasing tickets and build into their trip timeline any such restrictions. Also, keep in mind that restrictions can change at any time as the pandemic affects that particular part of the world. After the pandemic, it's possible that vaccinations may be required to enter some countries.
Travel Checklist for Safety and Security
So, what should travelers do? Here are eight tips to enhance your safety, security, and enjoyment of traveling in our new reality:
- Bring your own food. Airlines may or may not be serving food. Airport terminals may have reduced food options for an extended period, especially if closed businesses do not reopen and the airport is not able to immediately rent the space.
- Pack appropriately. With increased travel times, packing and dressing for comfort as well as effectiveness is important, so choose a reusable cloth masks or disposable paper mask based on your personal preference. Also, make sure you have disinfectant wipes in an easy-to-reach spot and hand sanitizer (the TSA is currently allowing 12 ounces of hand sanitizer per person in carry-on baggage) readily available.
- Allow extra time at the airport. Depending on the airport, you might want to allow as much as an hour. This also goes for layovers, especially at large airports like Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles.
- Go digital. If you have a contactless credit card, bring it. If you can use digital payment on your phone, set that up in advance, especially if you plan on buying food or alcohol during your flight.
- Plan ahead. Check in online and print your boarding passes or set them up on your phone. Pay any extra fees online. If your airline allows you to print your own baggage tags, do that too. If you know you might have to use a pen, bring your own.
- Double check travel restrictions. Research your destination, as restrictions are changing rapidly with conditions on the ground, but also look into if there are any restrictions for when you return home.
- Reconsider your trip if you, anyone traveling with you, anyone you live with or the person you are visiting is particularly high-risk. The CDC has compiled a list of questions to answer before you decide to travel.
- Plan for quarantine. Be aware that it’s entirely possible you will have to self-quarantine for 14 days when returning from the trip. For example, some venues are currently not allowing people who have flown within the last 14 days to enter. Make sure you have enough food in your home and have set up accommodations with your employer.
Even with increased guidelines, measures, and restrictions, it's possible that COVID-19 will change airport terminals and air travel for the better. In the interim, though, allow that little bit of extra time and be ready with those masks.
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