We rate the major US airlines and what they're doing to ensure your health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic
Fewer people are traveling in the US than ever before. Airlines have been heavily impacted by the pandemic; United Airlines is reporting a 90% drop in revenue, while Delta is reporting a drop of 88%. Most people are not traveling for leisure, but for business and family emergencies, some need to travel even in the midst of the pandemic. In order to protect passengers and staff in scary times, most US airlines have adopted safety protocols that allow for social distancing and lower risks, but some are doing more than others. We researched the the safety protocols of major US airlines to find the safest airlines to fly, so when you have to travel, you can do it with as little risk as possible.
What Safety Practices Are US Airlines Adopting?
There are a variety of safety practices US airlines are adopting to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on their flights:
- All major US airlines are now requiring face masks, and some even provide passengers with free masks.
- Most airlines have suspended meal and beverage service, offering no snacks or just prepackaged ones instead.
- Airlines have changed boarding and deplaning procedures to allow for social distancing, boarding and deplaning passengers in smaller groups
- Some airlines are booking fewer seats per flight and not booking middle seats in order to keep passengers apart from one another.
But the degrees of caution airlines are using vary, and not all airlines are using all the above protocols. We researched the major safety procedures of the US’ largest airlines, and we’re ranking them from best to worst.
Delta Airlines: A+ COVID Safety Rating
Delta has the most stringent safety requirements of the major US airlines. It is blocking middle and some aisle seats until September 30th, and passengers can rebook flights for free if their plans change or if they feel that their flight is too full. Planes are being boarded back to front, and passengers are asked to remain seated in the gate area until their row is boarding. They are suspending inflight service and instead giving passengers prepackaged snack boxes and sanitary items. Face coverings are required to board the plane and Delta has signage surrounding its gates reminding passengers to social distance. Hand sanitizer, plastic shields and other PPE are being used broadly and offered to passengers. Electrostatic spraying is used to disinfect plane cabins between flights as well as regular cleaning protocols. Customers will be cued when to deplane by flight attendants to allow for social distancing.
Southwest Airlines: A COVID Safety Rating
Southwest is also blocking middle seats through the end of September, although they are allowing groups that live together to sit together. All passengers are required to wear a mask. Inflight service is completely suspended for flights of less than 250 miles; for flights longer than that passengers will receive a cup of water and a packaged snack bag. Flights are being boarded in groups of ten, rather than the usual thirty. Plexiglass plastic shields are installed at baggage counters and help centers. Southwest is using hospital quality disinfectant and air filtration throughout their planes. They have not changed their deplaning process, however.
United Airlines: B COVID Safety Rating
United Airlines is filling seats to capacity, although they are allowing customers to rebook their flights for free if flights are more than 70% full. However, flights are limited, and it may be difficult to reschedule. Food and beverage service has been suspended for shorter flights, and on longer flights passengers are getting a snack bag. Passengers are staggered for boarding and deplaning, although some reports say that the procedures are inconsistent.
American Airlines: C COVID Safety Rating
American Airlines is also filling seats to capacity and is utilizing their normal boarding process. They are not distributing hand sanitizer or other PPE. They have suspended food and beverage service on shorter flights, but beverage service is being held on longer flights. If flights are full, American will move customers upon request to other flights, but that is dependent on availability. They are utilizing their usual boarding processes.
While travel will always come with some risks during a pandemic, sometimes it’s necessary. Before traveling, make sure that you check travel advisories for the area you are visiting and be sure that you will not need to be legally quarantined upon arrival. To make your travel smoother, get TSA precheck and renew your passport with Skip. We hope you have safe and healthy travels!
More Travel Info
📌 Here's what you need to know about the new REAL ID deadline.
📌 Visa rules are changing during the COVID-19 crisis: read the latest here.
📌 TSA PreCheck is more important than ever, pre-enroll here with Skip.