It has probably been a few months since you have boarded a plane. Air travel ground to a virtual halt this spring as people sheltered at home to stem the spread of the new coronavirus or were grounded by travel restrictions.
With summer vacations ahead, travel bookings are picking up as some people feel ready to start flying again. If you are in that group, get ready: Air travel has changed a lot in the past couple of months. Here is a look at what to expect—and what is expected of you—at the airport and during the flight.
Destinations are opening, but travel limits remain
Airlines are adding back domestic flights, especially to states where attractions are opening up, including Florida and Las Vegas, and where outdoor activities are plentiful, such as Colorado and Wyoming. International flights remain very limited, though you can find flights to vacation destinations such as the Caribbean. Some flights to Europe are available, and more could be added, but for now many countries remain closed to U.S. tourists.
Prepare to have fewer nonstop options wherever you are going. United Airlines Holdings Inc. UAL -1.85% is flying about one-quarter of last year’s schedule. American Airlines Group Inc. is flying about 55% of its typical domestic schedule in July but just 20% of its international flights. Delta Air Lines Inc. DAL -3.14% is adding about 1,000 flights in July overall, but still says its schedule will be 70% smaller than it was last year. Southwest Airlines Co. said it plans to take advantage of rising demand to fly as much as 75% of its 2019 schedule in July.
You can find deals on flights—for now
Airfares plunged in March as passenger demand virtually disappeared. Prices have been rising since then but have been erratic, analysts say, as airlines have reduced flights. Still, airlines are competing harder than before for customers, and executives don’t expect to be able to raise prices much in the coming months.
“It has never been cheaper to travel in peak summer as it is this year,” said Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights.
According to booking app Hopper, which pulls data on airfare searches and price quotes from several global distribution systems, domestic round-trip airfare for summer travel is down 34% on average compared with last year, at $189 a ticket. International round-trip airfare is down 17%, averaging $720 a ticket.
Airports have never been cleaner
Airports say they are stepping up cleaning in areas such as bathrooms, ticket counters and trams between terminals. They are adding hand-sanitizer dispensers by the hundreds and working to make kiosk screens, bathroom faucets and restaurant menus hands-free. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has deployed a cleaning team to sanitize surfaces more often and sped up work to remake bathrooms with automatic faucets and soap dispensers.
Social distancing at airports isn’t always possible, but you can expect to see decals marking off 6-foot intervals on floors and to hear announcements reminding passengers to keep their distance. Lines will probably look longer, even if they aren’t.
There will be differences from one airport to another, though. Restaurants and retailers might be closed or have capacity limits, so it would be wise to bring your own snacks. Seating in some restaurants and public areas might be removed or reconfigured to discourage crowding.
American is reopening some Admirals Club lounges this month with limited capacity and prepackaged snacks, rather than fresh food. At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, airport restaurants are using a mobile-device service for ordering, to reduce face-to-face interactions. Even parking options might be different: Washington, D.C.’s airports, for example, have closed far-off garages and cut rates for closer ones, so people can avoid using shared shuttles to the terminal.
Airport security lines might take a little more time
The Transportation Security Administration has adopted new procedures aimed at reducing contact among officers and travelers. TSA officers will wear masks and gloves, and travelers will place their own boarding passes on scanners, rather than handing them to an officer, for example. You might be asked to adjust your mask during screening.
Be extra careful packing: If you have a prohibited item or forget to take an item out of your bag—a laptop, for example—you might have to go back through the line again so that an officer doesn’t need to rifle through your belongings. TSA is granting an exception to the rules on liquids for hand sanitizer: You will be allowed to carry one hand-sanitizer container of as much as 12 ounces, an upgrade from the usual 3.4-ounce limit.
Some airlines might take your temperature
Temperature screenings and other health checks will vary depending on which airline you fly as well as your departure city and destination. Some airlines are asking passengers to certify that they are healthy. Southwest, United, Alaska Air Group Inc. and Frontier Airlines are asking customers to complete a health assessment during check-in, verifying that they haven’t exhibited symptoms of Covid-19—the disease caused by the new coronavirus—or come into contact with anyone who has.