The Latest on Airline Covid-19 Safety Measures

United is dropping its vaccine mandate, while Southwest, Delta and American are resuming alcohol and hot-meal service. 

Photo Credit: United Airlines

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Updated March 17, 2022

As international travel restrictions ease and air travel demand increases, airlines are reassessing their Covid-19 policies. Certain restrictions, such as United's employee vaccine mandate, are being dropped due to declining cases and the move towards an endemic mindset. Meanwhile, other carriers are reintroducing in-flight services that have been halted throughout the pandemic. Southwest resumed alcohol sales in mid-February. Starting this month, Delta's first-class customers can enjoy hot-meal service on flights totaling 900 miles or more. In April, American Airlines will resume the sale of alcohol and light snacks on certain flights.

Currently, all U.S. citizens and permanent residents must present proof of a negative viral Covid-19 test taken no more than one day before departure. All other international travelers must be fully vaccinated or meet the criteria for an exemption in order to enter the U.S. They are also required to show a negative viral test result taken taken within a day before travel. 

To ease the travel process, many airlines have partnered with health-care providers to offer an array of Covid-19 testing options to their customers. United, for example, offers on-site testing at select destinations, as well as mail-in testing options. Meanwhile, JetBlue passengers can get at-home test through the carrier's partnership with Vault Health. American Airlines also offers at-home testing, as well as in-person and on-site options at select destinations.  

In addition, American Airlines and United have rolled out mobile apps that allow travelers to view Covid-19 requirements at their destinations and to upload their test results or vaccination records. Air Canada and Frontier have eliminated temperature checks prior to departure. 

Currently, all employees and customers are required to wear face masks while in airports and on planes. Most airlines have extra face masks and sanitizing wipes on hand if customers forget to bring their own, and passengers who refuse to wear masks can be removed from planes and barred from travel on their chosen airline.

Following are details on the latest safety protocols and updates at major airlines. Northstar Meetings Group is also tracking cruise line updates, as well as the latest travel guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Air Canada

Only Canadian citizens and fully vaccinated international visitors are allowed into Canada at this time. All travelers must provide proof of a negative rapid test taken one day prior to their flight or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours prior to departure. Air Canada has partnered with Switch Health to offer self-administered molecular and antigen tests that can be used for travel around the world.

Unvaccinated travelers are only able to enter the country if they are Canadian citizens. Those who are unvaccinated must quarantine upon arrival and take Covid-19 tests as directed. Air Canada's Travel Ready Hub details the latest travel requirements.

High-touch areas at check-in and at the gates are disinfected frequently. Hospital-grade disinfectants and electrostatic sprayers are used to sanitize the planes. HEPA filters refresh the cabin air every two to three minutes. If the airline is notified by a health authority that a potentially infected passenger has been on an aircraft, it is taken out of service for deep cleaning and disinfection.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has partnered with multiple 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.

Food-and-beverage services on board are being reintroduced graduall y, 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" signage has been added to encourage physical distancing between travelers. The airline has reopened its its Alaska Lounges in Anchorage; New York; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle; and Portland, Ore. 

American Airlines

American Airlines will slowly reintroduce onboard food-and-beverage options, beginning April 18. Customers will be able to purchase beer, wine and spirts on flights of more than 250 miles. Light snacks will be available for purchase on flights longer than 1,500 miles. The airline plans to add touchless ordering options later in the year.

The carrier is working with health providers LetsGetChecked, CareNow, eMed, GoHealth, Qured and Optum 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 is the first airline to achieve GBAC Star accreditation for its 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. 

The airline has reopened many of its lounges, including those in Atlanta, Denver, Miami and San Francisco. The clubs are cleaned on a frequent basis. Complimentary food and beverage is available, and QR codes have been added for touchless menus.

Delta Air Lines

Delta will resume first-class hot-meal service on flights over 900 miles this month. The airline is also adding sustainable menu options, including Impossible Burgers, plant-based meatballs, cauliflower cakes and more. In June 2021, Delta reintroduced some hot-food options for domestic coast-to-coast flights. 

The carrier has partnered with the Mayo Clinic and Lysol-maker Reckitt Benckiser since the beginning of the pandemic, in an effort to 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 also created a Global Cleanliness division to drive a long-term commitment to enhanced hygiene practices.

Passengers are 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 from Vyv have been installed in some 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. 


Dubai-based Emirates' planes undergo enhanced cleaning and disinfection processes after each journey. Lavatories are frequently disinfected, and hospital-grade HEPA filters regularly clean the air. 

The carrier has reopened the Business Class lounge on Concourse A at Dubai International airport, as well as the First Class and Business Class lounges on Concourse B.. 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 passenger must complete a health acknowledgement form prior to boarding, certifying that they will wear a face covering over their noses and mouths throughout their journey.

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, galleys and lavatories. A top-to-bottom sanitization is done every night. Enhanced deep cleanings are conducted monthly, using an antimicrobial agent designed to form a protective shield against viruses for 30 days.

Hawaiian Airlines

Beginning March 26, visitors traveling to Hawaii from within the continental U.S. no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative pretravel test. 

Transpacific aircraft are thoroughly cleaned after each flight, while interisland aircraft are disinfected daily. Sanitizing wipes are distributed to passengers as they board. Priority boarding, from the front of the plane to the rear, has resumed. 

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. Common areas at the airport, such as counters and kiosks, are cleaned multiple times a day. 

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue now requires that all new hires be fully vaccinated prior to starting their training. 

JetBlue has 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. Customers also have the option to complete Covid-19 testing via XpresCheck, which is available at Boston Logan International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Orlando International Airport.

All JetBlue aircraft are equipped with hospital-grade HEPA filters, and the cabin air is changed roughly every three minutes. The carrier has increased the frequency of aircraft cleanings, as well as the disinfection of surfaces in the airport terminals.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines resumed service of in-flight alcoholic beverages on Feb. 16, nearly two years after the service was halted. The airline has also expanded its offerings of nonalcoholic options.

The "Southwest Promise" initiative aims 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 cleaned for nearly six to seven hours each night. Particular attention is paid to high-touch areas, including tray tables, armrests and laboratories. HEPA filters are used to circulate air and remove airborne particles in the cabin of every flight.

Spirit Airlines

Travelers on Spirit Airlines are required to complete a health declaration prior to check-in to certify that they will wear a face covering over their nose and mouth throughout their journey; and neither they nor anyone in their household has exhibited Covid-19 symptoms, tested positive for the virus, or come into close contact with someone who has tested positive or is exhibiting symptoms within the past 14 days.

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 will drop its vaccination mandate for employees on March 28. The carrier was one of the first in the U.S. to require its workers be fully inoculated against Covid-19. According to the company, more than 96 percent of its employees are vaccinated as a result of the policy. The roughly 2,200 workers who received vaccination exemptions and were placed on unpaid leave or moved into noncustomer-facing roles will be allowed to return at the end of the month.

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

United has also teamed with a number of health-care providers to offer a range of Covid-19 testing options. ADL Health provides mail-in testing options for travel within the U.S. Travelers also can use the travel-ready center to book an in-person appointment at more than 3,000 testing locations across the country that are in the TrustAssure network. Results are expected within four to 48 hours and are submitted directly to United's website and mobile app for a seamless travel experience. 

United has enhanced its cleaning protocols as part of its United CleanPlus commitment. The new cleanliness and disinfection standards were developed in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic and Clorox

High-touch areas on planes, such as armrests and door handles, are disinfected with a range of Clorox products throughout the day. The carrier is also using electrostatic-disinfectant sprayers on all planes before departure. In addition, sneeze guards have been installed at check-in and gate podiums. Guests can take advantage of contactless check-in through the United app, and are provided with hand sanitizer wipes when they board the aircraft.

Passengers must acknowledge that they have not tested positive for the virus, are not awaiting test results and have not exhibited any Covid-19 symptoms over the past 10 days, as part of the check-in process.