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How to stay safe while flying during COVID-19

Learn precautions major airlines are taking and what you can do to protect yourself.

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Major US airlines are enforcing and even exceeding the CDC’s health and safety guidelines to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19 among its passengers. But even as airlines up their game, there’s plenty you can do to ensure your own safety. We break down what each airline is doing and what you can do to stay safe if you need to fly during the pandemic.

Safety procedures and guidelines by airline

Review the guidelines and requirements of major US airlines, and learn more about current coronavirus protocols on the airline’s site.

AirlineSafety procedures and guidelinesMore info
Alaska Airlines
  • Contactless check-in through the Alaska Airlines app
  • Individual hand-sanitizer wipes
  • Masks on request
  • Health assessments for all travelers
  • Limited food and beverage services
  • Increased cleaning with high-grade EPA disinfectant
  • Air filtration with industrial-grade HEPA filters
  • Graduated boarding and deboarding to avoid crowding
Alaska Airlines COVID protocols
American Airlines
  • Enhanced cleaning and sanitizing kiosks, ticket counters and service counters
  • Purell Advanced sanitizer dispensers available before boarding
  • Touchless check-in at kiosks
  • Mobile drink and food orders to limit contact
  • Global Biorisk Advisory Council accreditation for cleaning protocols
  • Flexible seating to allow for social distancing
  • Aircraft cleaned with SurfaceWise2 coating that kills 99.9% of viruses
  • Air filtration with industrial-grade HEPA filters
  • Deep cleaning of seatbelt buckels, armrests and window shades
American Airlines COVID protocols
Delta Airlines
  • Blocked middle seats in Premium Select, Comfort+ and main cabin
  • Limited passengers on board
  • Limited food and beverage services
  • Contactless check-in through the Delta Airlines app
  • Air filtration with industrial-grade HEPA filters
  • Partners with Lysol for cleaning and disinfection products
  • In-flight service reviewed and advised by the Mayo Clinic
  • Graduated boarding and deboarding to avoid crowding
Delta Airlines COVID protocols
Hawaiian Airlines
  • COVID-19 testing encouraged through Pre-clear Program
  • Individual hand sanitizer available
  • Graduated boarding and deboarding to avoid crowding
  • Cleaning in high-touch areas, such as tray tables and overhead bins
  • Hospital-grade disinfectants used after every flight
  • Air filtration with industrial-grade HEPA filters
  • Temporary ban on sale of alcoholic beverages
  • Elimination of shared items, like daily newspapers
Hawaiian Airlines COVID protocols
JetBlue Airlines
  • Temperature checks of employees and flight attendants
  • Increased cleaning of frequently touched surfaces using hospital-grade disinfectant
  • Personal protection packs to travelers before boarding, including hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes
  • Air filtration with industrial-grade HEPA filters
  • Advertises most space between seats of any airline
  • Requires health declaration from passengers
  • Contactless check-in through the JetBlue app
  • Graduated boarding and deboarding to avoid crowding
JetBlue Airlines COVID protocols
Spirit Airlines
  • Air filtration with industrial-grade HEPA filters
  • Electrostatic spraying at check-in counters and gates
  • Disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer available
  • Deep cleaning in high-touch areas, such as tray tables and overhead bins
  • EPA-registered fogging treatments to disinfect aircraft
  • Air filtration with industrial-grade HEPA filters
  • Partners with MedAire for advice on medical protocols
  • Contactless check-in through the Spirit Airlines app
  • Expanded aircraft cleaning protocols include hospital-grade disinfectants and antibacterial processes
Spirit Airlines COVID protocols
Southwest Airlines
  • Electrostatic disinfectant and antimicrobial spray applied on aircraft surfaces
  • Air filtration with industrial-grade HEPA filters
  • Individual hand sanitizer available
  • Boarding in groups of 10 to minimize crowding
  • Nightly deep cleaning of planes
  • Contactless check-in through the Southwest Airlines app
  • Limited food and beverage services
Southwest Airlines COVID protocols
United Airlines
  • Partners with Clorox for disinfection and cleaning products
  • Advised by the Cleveland Clinic on enhanced safety measures
  • Automated text assistant to help passengers with safety questions
  • Requires health assessment from passengers
  • Touchless check-in available
  • Temperature checks for employees and flight attendants
  • Individual hand sanitizer available
  • Disinfects high-touch areas, like tray tables and armrests, before boarding
  • Limited food and beverage service
  • Graduated boarding and deboarding to minimize crowding
  • UVC lighting wands disinfect sensitive components like switches and touchscreen displays
United Airlines COVID protocols

Which airlines offer COVID-19 testing?

Several major airlines are providing COVID-19 testing for its passengers, sometimes right at the airport. Go to the airline’s site to learn moer about testing options during the pandemic.

AirlineCOVID-19 testing availabilityMore info
Alaska AirlinesPartners with providers offering COVID-19 tests at pharmacies and retail settings. Travelers can opt for an in-person appointment at a Carbon Health location or at home using a Costco test kit.

Airports with testing sites include Portland International Airport and San Diego International Airport.

Alaska Airlines COVID-19 testing
American AirlinesProvides preflight testing for travelers headed to London or select Caribbean islands. Provides at-home kits for customers headed to US states, cities or territories with restrictions in place.American Airlines COVID-19 testing
Delta AirlinesPreflight testing programs in pilot phases from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Amsterdam and Rome.Delta Airlines COVID-19 testing
Hawaiian AirlinesTests customers headed to Hawaii. At-home saliva kits or drive-through testing sites available depending on your departure city. Hawaiian Airlines also allows passengers to swap frequent flyer points for a mail-in test kit.Hawaiian Airlines COVID-19 testing
JeBblue AirlinesPartners with Vault Health to provide at-home saliva tests with results in 72 hours.JetBlue Airlines COVID protocols
Spirit AirlinesPartners with Nomi Health to provide in-person testing at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.Spirit Airlines COVID-19 testing
United AirlinesOffers preflight COVID-19 testing for passengers heading to select destinations, including the Caribbean and London. Partners with ADL Health to offer at-home COVID-19 PCR tests for travelers to Central and South America.United Airlines COVID-19 testing

How to travel safely

If you need to travel during COVID-19, review the health and safety requirements of the airlines, airports and states you plan to travel through to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

  • Stock up on PPE. Purchase plenty of personal protective equipment before you leave. We recommend at least one cloth mask or several disposable face masks for each day of your trip.
  • Pack a coronavirus travel kit. Look for a kit with hygiene products like hand sanitizer, tissues and disposable gloves.
  • Take a COVID-19 test. Schedule your test at least three days before your departure, after your arrival or both. Such airports as Tampa International in Florida offer COVID-19 tests on site.
  • Get vaccinated. If you’re eligible for a vaccine, wait at least two weeks after your second dose before flying.
  • Wash your hands often. Use antibacterial soap and wash for at least 20 seconds, relying on hand sanitizer if washing your hands isn’t possible
  • Keep your distance. Stay at least 6 feet away from people who aren’t traveling with you, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Avoid touching your face. COVID-19 is transmitted by infectious droplets entering your eyes, nose or mouth.

What are the federal requirements for flying during COVID-19?

President Biden signed an executive order in January 2021 requiring face masks in airports and on aircraft. It applies to all air passengers flying within the US or into or out of a US hub or airport.

Guidelines for face mask compliance include:

  • Masks must fit snugly to the face without large gaps
  • Masks must cover both the mouth and nose
  • Cloth face masks must be made of at least two layers and crafted from tightly woven fabric
  • Masks cannot have vents, slits or valves

The Transportation Security Administration may issue fines to those violating the face mask order.

Where can Americans travel right now?

Destinations around the country are beginning to ease COVID-19 restrictions, yet many states still require a mandatory quarantine period for out-of-towners or evidence of a negative COVID-19 test. Before leaving for your trip, review the restrictions in each state you plan to visit or travel through.

What about international destinations?

Many countries around the world are not allowing US tourists to enter. Of the countries allowing US visitors, a majority have restrictions in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, like mandatory face masks in public places and airport screenings to make sure you’re not bringing the virus with you — yet another reason to pack a coronavirus travel kit.

After touching down, you can expect businesses in the private sector, such as hotels and restaurants, to have their own policies in place.

Bottom line

Most airlines advertise safety procedures online for reviewing before you fly. Double-checking travel requirements by your airline, destination and federal government a day or two before you leave as well. If you are concerned or at risk, talk to your doctor before traveling to learn how to protect yourself and others while flying.

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