Brave new world; 8 changes I’ve noticed flying during coronavirus
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Airports are empty
The thing that has probably shocked me the most about my recent travel is seeing how empty most of the airports I’ve traveled through have been.
Related: My first flight post-coronavirus
It’s very strange to see empty terminals and not to see bustling crowds and overflowing gate areas. The most glaring examples were at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE).
The two exceptions to this have been Seattle International Airport (SEA) and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) which have both been relatively crowded (though not like pre-pandemic). Las Vegas was the most crowded of any airport I’ve been to so far in the past few months. In fact, while Las Vegas was definitely less crowded than it has been, the airport felt too crowded at times.
Related: 9 ways Las Vegas is different now
Many lounges are closed or have reduced offerings
Many of lounges I’ve passed have been closed including the American Express Centurion lounges and some of the Priority Pass lounges. I also came across closed Delta and United lounges. The few lounges that are open definitely have less amenities and food options. (American Airlines is beginning to serve hot food a few of its open lounges.)
Delta probably has the most robust offerings especially at the Los Angles and Salt Lake City clubs I visited. Still, food is all individually wrapped and drinks are served by a bartender behind plexiglass.
It was similar at the Alaska Airlines lounge I went to in Seattle. Food and beverage options were sparse and individually wrapped. There was one walk-up bar servicing people who wanted drinks, but you needed to socially distance while waiting to be served. You couldn’t serve yourself coffee even at the Alaska lounge. The lounges were much less full than normal as well.
Flights are less crowded
The thing that has made me feel perhaps best about the air travel I’ve done this summer is the lack of crowding on planes. Most of my flights have been only about 25% full. That’s why I’ve mostly stuck to Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines because so far they are blocking middle seats.
Everyone is wearing masks
I am very happy to report that mask compliance was 100% on all my flights. Pilots and flight attendants make multiple announcements during boarding and during the flight. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. Most people are even wearing their masks properly (like keep your nose covered).
The only times people take their masks off is to eat or drink. Only one time did I see a woman leave her mask off for a long time. She was drinking several glasses of wine.
Related: Face mask etiquette
There is minimal service
If you are a big fan of first class service and food and beverage service, you’ll be disappointed when you return to the skies. Interactions with flight attendants are few and far between for safety reasons obviously. On most Delta flights you’ll get a large plastic baggy with snacks, water and some hand sanitizer.
Alaska Airlines had more of a traditional meal service on longer flights, but the was still limited to pre-packaged snack items or a cheese plate even on long flights. Alaska is serving hot, fresh coffee on their flights which I did not get on Delta. They are also giving out warmed-up cookies in first class which is a nice treat.
One thing to be aware of if you love a cocktail is that there aren’t any! Most airlines are not serving mixed drinks at all at least on domestic fights. Both Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are serving individual bottles or cans of wine or beer, but generally only in their premium cabins.
Related: Booze on board?
Planes seem more clean
This is obviously subjective since you can’t see germs, but I definitely feel like planes are cleaner. I noticed much less trash and dirty surfaces than I’m used to seeing on planes
The airlines have all announced various cleaning measures and planes are being cleaned better and more often. Many airlines are actually sanitizing surface areas with electrostatic sprayers at least once a day or using a fogging spray that disinfects surfaces.
In any case, it made me feel better knowing the new procedures were in place. I also appreciated Delta handing out hand sanitizer to every passenger and putting it inside new meal bags. Alaska also gives out hand sanitizer, but only on request.
Related: How Delta is cleaning planes
Upgrades are clearing easily
One of the extraordinary impacts of the fall in travel demand has been the ease of upgrades for elite members. Even with airlines blocking as many as half of seats in the first class cabin, upgrades have been easy and early. I’ve only missed one upgrade in all the flights I’ve taken on planes with first class cabins. A 95% upgrade percentage would have been unheard of before the pandemic even with top tier status.
Other folks are reporting similar success. My colleague Zach Wichter was recently updgraded as a Delta Silver Medallion.
After multiple airplane rides, I can report that I’ve felt safe in the air and at airports. For the most part, folks are following rules and social distancing guidelines. I’ve chosen Delta and Alaska because I feel like they have taken the most precautions (Southwest getting high marks from my colleagues too).
To stay up to date on how coronavirus is impacting the travel industry, head to TPG’s coronavirus hub page.
Be sure to check out Zach Honig’s guide to various airlines’ policies for cleaning and social distancing if you are going to be returning to the skies so you can make the best decision for yourself.
Featured photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.
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