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COVID-19 has had a clear impact on every aspect of life over the past year and the travel industry has not been exempt. From cancellations to consolidated flight schedules, there has been no shortage of change, however with new precautions in place to help slow the spread, travel, including air travel, is back on the rise compared to when the pandemic first hit.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, 324 million people were screened at airport security checkpoints, just a fraction of the 824 million who flew in 2019. From December 25-31 alone, nearly 7.2 million travelers boarded planes. If traveling via air is on the horizon, here are a few recent updates and factors to take into account leading up to take off.
Check Destination Requirements
Some destinations like New York, Hawaii or Puerto Rico have had stricter requirements compared to other places. This can range from travelers needing to produce negative test results a certain number of days prior to traveling or quarantining for 10-14 days upon arrival. Some require filling out forms for contact tracing purposes. The forms ask for travelers to provide information including address, length and purpose of stay and even flight and seat number. Certain destinations have stay-at-home orders or other limited attractions such as reduced dining or decreased capacity at attractions. Be sure to check the specifics before booking a flight. Travelers without required documentation face the possibility of fines or being detained. Some report not being asked to produce these upon arrival, while others have had phone calls, texts and other check-ins from authorities.
Thinking about leaving the country? As of January 26, international travelers are now required to test negative no more than 72 hours before boarding their return flight. Airlines will be mandated to confirm results, so be sure to work with local entities to find a testing site in time to avoid being denied during the boarding process. Travelers who have previously recovered from the virus are exempt from this rule, but must present proper documentation stating they are cleared for travel. These new regulations also apply to passengers on flights connecting through the U.S.
Be Prepared to Mask Up
If wearing a mask or face covering for hours at a time is not ideal or possible, consider alternative means of transportation. Masks are required at all times during check in, at the gate and for the duration of the flight. Airlines are taking this policy very seriously, with certain instances of passengers without masks making headlines. Be sure to comply to avoid delays or being removed from a flight.
The TSA Experience
The 3-1-1 rule for liquids has been temporarily amended. While gels, aerosols and liquids must still adhere to no more than 3.4 ounces in size, the change allows passengers to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer. As mentioned, masks are required at all times, with the exception of a quick moment where a TSA agent will ask you to remove it to confirm your identity. There are also guidelines when it comes to face coverings. Masks with valves or ventilation built in were banned by major U.S. airlines so be sure to have the proper PPE.
Safety in the Skies
Airlines are also joining in the effort to keep passengers and crew safe. In 2020, we saw many airlines blocking middle seats on flights. With travel back on the rise, some are no longer adopting this practice, so be sure to check or upgrade if this is of concern. Many airlines announced planes would be cleaned between flights and some are providing passengers with sanitizing wipes to use on tray tables, headrests and seat arms for additional precautions upon boarding. On-board food and beverage services have also been reduced so consider purchasing snacks and meals for the haul.
Remain Socially Distanced
It is hard to remain six feet apart in the confined space of a plane or airport, but precautions are put in place to help remind passengers to separate. This includes in bathrooms, waiting areas, security and check in. Adhere to stickers on the ground that serve as reminders of how far to stand apart. Seats at gates can be found in blocks to keep parties at a distance. Air dryers in restrooms might be out of operation to avoid blowing particles around and sinks can be limited to avoid splashing between those washing their hands. Installed plexiglass separates cashiers, security and airline crew at kiosks from passengers.
Watch the Clock
This has always been a given, but even with the reduced number of travelers, make sure to arrive early. Some airports have started offering on-site COVID testing. If this is a destination requirement, arrive with enough time to stop in for evaluation if not already done in the days before departure. If bringing food is not a typical part of your traveling routine, consider it. Many terminal restaurants and shops have reduced hours with the lack of travelers passing through. This means increased wait times at eateries and bars that are open.
As more passengers hit the skies and travel rises, it is important to practice safe, social distancing and good hygiene to protect ourselves and others.
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