The Latest on Airline Safety Protocols

Airlines are no longer blocking middle seats but other safety protocols remain, including temperature checks, face-mask requirements and health assessments. 

Updated June 7, 2021

Although airlines have stopped blocking middle seats, many other Covid-19 safety protocols remain steadfastly in place for air travel. All major carriers are continuing to disinfect high-touch areas aboard the aircraft and in the airport on a regular basis. In addition, passengers are still required to wear face masks throughout their journey, regardless of vaccination status.

Many airlines are also partnering with health providers to offer an array of Covid-19 testing options. United, for example, offers on-site testing at select destinations, as well as mail-in testing options. Meanwhile, JetBlue has teamed up with Vault Health to offer at-home Covid-19 tests, with results in 72 hours or less. American Airlines also offers at-home testing, as well as in-person and on-site options at select destinations. 

Currently, all passengers arriving in the U.S. from a foreign country are required to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test result or or documentation of having recovered from the virus, before boarding. The test must be taken within three days prior to departure.

In an effort to streamline the travel process, American Airlines and United have rolled out new mobile apps that allow travelers to view Covid-19 requirements in their destination and directly upload their test results or vaccination records. 

Following are details on the latest safety protocols at major airlines.  

Air Canada

Passengers entering Canada must have proof of a negative coronavirus PCR test taken within 72 hours of travel. For passengers traveling on Air Canada, a second test is required for the return flight if the departure time exceeds 72 hours from when the first test was taken. 

Passengers also must complete a health questionnaire and infrared temperature check before traveling. Anyone deemed unfit to fly will be rebooked on another flight at no cost, but will need to obtain medical clearance before they can travel.

The airline requires all employees and customers over the age of 2 to wear face masks. Bandanas, scarves and masks with an exhalation valve are not acceptable. Additional personal protective equipment, such as gloves, are available to staff members but are not required. Disposable customer-care kits, which include complimentary hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, are distributed to all passengers.

High-touch areas at check-in and at the gates are disinfected frequently. A hospital-grade disinfectant is used to sanitize planes before every flight. Thorough cleanings are conducted nightly and electrostatic sprayers are used to ensure the highest hygiene standards.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is partnering with testing providers to help guests travel to destinations that require a negative Covid-19 result. Testing is available by appointment in-person, at-home or via drive-through. 

As part of the airline's Next-Level Care program, all travelers are required to complete a health agreement during the check-in process. The agreement asks passengers to confirm they have not exhibited Covid-19 symptoms within the past 72 hours, have not been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive, and will wear a face mask while in the airport and aboard the aircraft.

Employees and all guests over the age of 2 are required to wear masks, which are available for customers who fail to bring their own. Travelers who repeatedly refuse to wear a mask will receive a warning and might be suspended from flying with Alaska Airlines for a period of time. Food-and-beverage services on board are being gradually reintroduced, and alcohol is now available in all cabins. 

Alaska Airlines has developed enhanced aircraft-cleaning procedures in coordination with infectious-disease experts from the University of Washington. Planes are cleaned with EPA-grade disinfectants and dedicated cleaning crews are brought in between flights.

Plexiglass shields have been installed at ticketing, customer service and gate area counters. High-touch areas in the airport are disinfected frequently, and "mind your wingspan" have been added to encourage physical distancing between travelers. 

The airline has now reopened its Alaska Lounges in Anchorage; Los Angeles; Seattle; and Portland, Ore. Limited capacities, enhanced cleanings and adjusted food-and-beverage services have been implemented.

American Airlines

American Airlines is working with health providers LetsGetChecked, CareNow, eMed and GoHealth to offer at-home, in-person and on-site rapid-testing options for select destinations. The airline has also partnered with mobile app VeriFly, which allows passengers to review travel requirements and restrictions for their destinations. Users can upload required documents, such as negative Covid-19 tests results, directly to the VeriFly app.

American Airlines requires all employees and travelers over the age of 2 to wear a face mask while flying and in the airport. Masks must cover the mouth and nose. Face coverings that have exhaust valves or vents, or are made with mesh or lace fabric will not be allowed. Face shields can be worn in addition to a mask, but not in place of one. Limited quantities of face masks will be available for travelers who do not bring their own. Travelers who do not wear a mask can be denied boarding and might be barred from future travel with the airline.

American is the first airline to achieve GBAC Star accreditation for the coronavirus cleaning and prevention efforts implemented on its fleet of aircraft and in its customer lounges. High-touch customer and team-member areas are cleaned before every flight. Planes are also treated with SurfaceWise, a long-lasting, EPA-approved surface coating that is designed to provide enhanced protection against Covid-19 for up to 90 days. 

According to American, the cabin air in all planes is changed every two to four minutes, on par with hospital standards. Most planes are also outfitted with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that remove airborne particulates while in flight. Cleaning of gate areas, ticket counters, passenger-service counters, baggage-service offices and team-member rooms has been increased. Physical-distancing is encouraged in the airport, and plexiglass shields have been installed at service counters. In-flight food-and-beverage services have been adjusted based on the flight length and destination.

The airline has reopened many of its lounges, including those in Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago and Orlando. The clubs are cleaned on a frequent basis, and hand-sanitizing stations have been installed. Signage and QR codes allow for touchless menus.

Delta Air Lines

Delta has partnered with the Mayo Clinic and Lysol-maker Reckitt Benckiser since the beginning of the pandemic, in an effort to continually enhance its Delta CareStandard protocols. In addition, the airline has hired Dr. Henry Ting, a Mayo Clinic executive, as its first chief health officer. Delta has also created a Global Cleanliness division to drive a long-term commitment to enhanced hygiene practices.

The carrier requires all customers and employees to wear face masks. They must be worn onboard the aircraft, as well as at lobby check-in, in Delta Sky Clubs and in boarding areas. Passengers are also required to complete a Covid-19 health assessment as part of the check-in process.

An extensive checklist is being used during aircraft cleaning, focusing on high-touch areas. Before each flight, a customer service agent and a flight leader will conduct a spot check to make sure the aircraft meets Delta standards. If not, a cleaning crew will be asked to return for additional sanitization. Electrostatic sprayers are used to disinfect the aircraft, and antimicrobial lights have been installed in the lavatories to reduce the growth of bacteria. All blankets and bedding are laundered after every flight. Lysol products are used to disinfect high-traffic areas at airports, such as check-in and baggage claim. 

Emirates

Dubai-based Emirates requires passengers over the age of 6 to wear their masks throughout their journey from check-in until they disembark. In addition, all cabin crew, boarding agents and ground staff in direct contact with passengers must don personal protective equipment, including disposable gowns, safety visors, masks and gloves.

Temperature checks are conducted at check-in. Passengers will also received a complimentary travel hygiene kit with gloves, a face mask, antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer at check-in.

All Emirates planes now undergo enhanced cleaning and disinfection processes after each journey. Lavatories are frequently disinfected, and if a flight is longer than 90 minutes, an extra crew member dedicated to cleaning the lavatories will be added.

The carrier has opened its Business Class Lounge on Concourse B at Dubai International Airport. The number of people allowed into the lounge has been reduced and all tables and seats have been spaced six feet apart. QR codes allow customers to order from a contactless menu. Sanitation practices have also been increased, with washrooms and recliner seats cleaned after each use. Other high-touch areas are disinfected frequently. 

Frontier Airlines 

Frontier Airlines has implemented temperature checks for all passengers and staff members. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be denied boarding. If the departure time allows, customers can rest for a little and then get their temperatures rechecked. If the reading is still too high, they will be rebooked on another flight for a later date.

In addition, all travelers are required to wear face coverings and will need to complete a health acknowledgement form to certify that:

  • Neither they nor anyone in their household has come into close contact with, tested positive for, exhibited symptoms of or been advised to quarantine for Covid-19 in the past 14 days.
  • They will have their temperature checked with a touchless thermometer prior to boarding.
  • They will wear a face covering over their noses and mouths throughout their journey, including at ticket counters, in gate areas and aboard the flight.
  • They will wash their hands before boarding.

According to Frontier, all planes are equipped with HEPA filters and the cabin air is replaced every three minutes. Aircraft are cleaned before every flight, with a focus on passenger seats, cabin walls, overhead bins, galleys and lavatories. Additional cleaning is conducted for planes with extended time between flights. A top-to-bottom sanitization is done every night. Enhanced deep cleanings are conducted monthly, using an antimicrobial agent that is designed to form a protective shield against viruses for 30 days.

Hawaiian Airlines

Out-of-state travelers to Hawaii can avoid a mandatory 10-day quarantine by getting a valid Covid-19 test within 72 hours before the final leg of departure and showing proof of a negative test result. Hawaiian Airlines also has launched a pre-clear program, which allows travelers with a negative Covid-19 test result to bypass airport screening in Hawaii. The program is available for those departing from more than a dozen locations, including San Francisco International Airport, New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, California's Long Beach Airport and Boston Logan International Airport. 

In addition, Hawaiian Airlines has partnered with testing facilities to help passengers get tested in person or at home. The airline's testing partners guarantee results within the required 72-hour time frame. 

All passengers must wear face masks that cover their mouths and noses, from check-in at the airport to deplaning at the destination. Young children under the age of 2 and guests with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks are exempt. Airport employees and flight attendants are also required to wear masks. 

Hawaiian has modified its boarding process, asking guests to remain seated at the gate until their rows are called, and gate agents can pause boarding as needed to prevent crowding. Sanitizing wipes will be distributed to passengers. Detailed cleaning and disinfecting protocols have been added between flights. 

The Kauai and Hawaii Island Premier Club lounges remain closed. Lounges at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and the Kahului Airport in Maui have reopened. Hawaiian Airlines' airport employees have been trained to identify and assist people with Covid-19 symptoms while minimizing the risk of contagion.

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue has implemented temperature screenings for all customer-facing crew members. The airline has also partnered with Vault Health to provide passengers with access to at-home Covid-19 testing. Results for the saliva-based tests are expected in 72 hours or less. 

Travelers are required to wear face coverings during check-in, boarding and in-flight. Crew members must also wear masks, along with medical-grade gloves during service delivery. 

As part of the check-in process, passengers must complete a health declaration stating they have not tested positive for Covid-19, experienced any symptoms, nor been in contact with anyone who has tested positive. Personal Protection Packs, which include hand sanitizer and two disinfectant wipes, are available to customers.

All JetBlue aircraft are equipped with hospital-grade HEPA filters, and the cabin air is changed roughly every three minutes. Tray tables and lavatories are disinfected before every flight. Deep cleanings are conducted each night, using electrostatic sprayers.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines launched the "Southwest Promise" initiative to assure customers that safety has and always will be the airline's top priority. Southwest spaces at airports, including ticket counters, gates and baggage claim, are cleaned multiple times a day. Electrostatic sprayers are used to apply disinfectants and an antimicrobial protectant to every interior surface of an aircraft. The sprays are designed to kill viruses and create a protective shield for 30 days.

Each plane is also being cleaned for nearly six to seven hours each night. Particular attention is being paid to high-touch areas, including every tray table, armrest, seat belt, window, air vent and button. HEPA filters are used to circulate air and remove airborne particles in the cabin of every flight.

A limited selection of nonalcoholic beverages and snacks is available on flights of more than 250 miles. All other food service has been suspended for the time being.

Employees and customers are required to wear face masks at all times. The airline has extra face masks and sanitizing wipes on hand if customers forget to bring their own. 

Spirit Airlines

All Spirit passengers and staff members must wear face coverings. Only children under the age of 2 are exempt. For guests who do not bring their own mask, the discount airline will provide one for $3. 

The Spirit mobile app offers contactless check-in, and self-bag-tagging is available at most airports. Electrostatic cleaning devices have been deployed to disinfect Spirit ticket counters, gates, break rooms, maintenance centers and crew bases in high-traffic airports.  

Spirit has also expanded its aircraft-cleaning protocols with a focus on highly frequented areas, including tray tables, handles and arm rests. All Spirit planes come equipped with HEPA filters, and crew members have been trained to report and address infectious diseases.

United Airlines

United has launched an online travel-ready center, where customers can review Covid-19 entry requirements, find local testing options and upload any necessary documents, such as coronavirus test results and vaccination records. The new solution is accessible via United's mobile app and website.

For travelers visiting Hawaii, United has added a clearance program that allows customers to skip document-screening lines on the islands by showing proof of a negative Covid-19 test result before boarding. Hawaii currently requires all out-of-state travelers to present a negative test taken within 72 hours before the final leg of departure to avoid the state's mandatory 10-day quarantine. 

The carrier has teamed up with a number health-care providers to offer a range of Covid-19 testing options. Customers traveling to Hawaii from Denver, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, and Newark, N.J., can complete a coronavirus test from XpresCheck at the airport. ADL Health provides mail-in testing options for travel within the U.S., and additional testing options are available for those traveling to the U.S. from abroad.

United has put together a coronavirus safety hub with the latest updates on what it is doing to keep customers and employees safe. The standards, dubbed United CleanPlus, were developed in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic and Clorox.

Changes include temperature checks for all employees and flight attendants, installing sneeze guards at check-in and gate podiums, and offering contactless check-in through the United app. High-touch areas on planes, such as armrests and door handles, will be disinfected with a range of Clorox products throughout the day. The carrier is also using electrostatic-disinfectant sprayers on all planes before departure. 

All United crew members and passengers are required to wear face masks at the airport and in-flight. Guests who do not have their own masks will be provided with one. Anyone who refuses to wear a mask might be denied boarding and could lose their travel privileges on future United flights. Customers must also acknowledge that they do not have any Covid-19 symptoms during the check-in process.