Wondering what it’s like to fly in the COVID-19 world? This post has answers straight from a travel advisor.
Hi, friends! It’s Heather, Teri and Tommy’s travel advisor! I hope you are doing well despite the crazy that we’re calling “2020”.
Teri asked me to share what I know about flying in Covid-times so you are as prepared as possible, especially as we approach the holiday season and more people may be considering hopping on a plane. She sent over some questions that she had when looking at flights throughout the year, but alas, she and Tommy didn’t get to babymoon in Maine like we had hoped! (Primland is lovely though!). And I bet a lot of you have had these same questions!
The links included below are regularly updated and time stamped, so even if you read this five months from now or reference back, you can get the most accurate information. If you have any questions for me, please add them in the comments.
Photo from HCTC client CJ Weaber
Flying in 2020 and the Covid-19 Era
Q: What are the new TSA procedures?
Fewer security lanes with required physical distancing while in line. These changes may increase the time it takes you to get through security; however, there are fewer people flying. I currently advise adding 30 – 45 minutes on to your normal arrival time to the airport, but this may or may not be applicable depending on the airport you’re flying from.
Liquid Hand sanitizer allowance. You are now allowed one, 12 ounce or smaller, bottle per passenger in your carry-on bag.
Mask requirements are determined by airport + airline (but assume you need it!) – please check both to be prepared! The TSA agent may ask you to remove your mask while in the security line.
Changes include fewer routes or less frequent service on routes
Health certifications (answering questions about whether you’ve experienced Covid-19 symptoms or been around anyone who has tested positive in the last three weeks when you check-in for your flight)
Airline bankruptcy which equals less flights and higher ticket prices
Requirement of masks
Middle seats blocked off
Change fees waived for many airlines
Decreased meal & drink service in the air and potentially closed restaurants at the airport (pack snacks!)
Higher frequency of cleaning (and we all said YAY)! With Delta, they hand you a sanitizing wipe when you board and then on flights where they do serve food, it comes in a baggie like this one. (This is a photo from June so things may have changed!)
Q: Pricing – is it better/worse/what’s coming?
Airfare prices are the lowest I have seen in my decade plus of planning vacations. The lowest pricing is for flights in the next 120 days. Pricing is determined based on supply and demand. As an industry, we’re anxious to see the effects in the next year as that’s when we still have fewer routes but more demand, and that would equal higher pricing. Time will (continually) tell!
Q: Tips for finding ideal flights
Teri: When looking at flights to Utah earlier in the year, I spent over FOUR hours before I was able to find flights that didn’t have an 11-13 hour layover). And then the ones I had found were gone four hours later and I had to start all over.
Heather: Gah, it’s frustrating isn’t it? Especially now, when our options are limited, at best. I’m a fan of Google Flights for researching; you can easily set your parameters (departure + arrival time, layovers, I also use the Chrome extension: FlySafe to get a health rating on flights ). What we’re going to see more often for the foreseeable future, especially for those flying from smaller airports, are more connections. You will want to check multiple days to see if you can find fewer stops/better times on busier days (typically Thursday – Sunday). And if you find something good, don’t wait to book it!!
Q: Are direct flights gone forever? (I couldn’t find ANY direct flights out of NC to SLC).
No, they will come back as the demand picks back up. But airline experts say returning to “normalcy” will take until 2022 or 2023.
Fun fact in the airline/travel world: direct flight doesn’t mean nonstop flight; we consider direct flights, flights that stop but no change of plane is required, whereas a nonstop is a flight that truly doesn’t stop.
Q: Do you expect first class prices to stay low for a while? I’ve never seen that option so affordable.
Potentially. If it’s an option for you, always check as it would depend on the demand on the route. Google Flights will list the upgrade price when you’re checking!
Q: Do I have to wear a mask during my entire flight?
As a blanket statement, all airlines are enforcing their rules on wearing one. Please check with your individual airline to find out who would not have to wear one or what exceptions would be allowed.
Q: How can I tell if my flight will be packed – does the seat map reflect it? Last I read from Delta, they’re capping capacity at 60% and blocking middle seats, but I keep hearing of flights that are SUPER packed.
It is dependent on the airline and the route. While looking at the seat map is not a perfect reflection of the number of flyers it is your best option. Some airlines (United being one of them) will send an email out 24 hours prior to let you know if you have a crowded flight. You’ll then have the option to change your flight or receive a travel credit. Other airlines will post on their website if they are capping flight capacity, like Delta.
Please keep in mind, there are not as many flights on any route as we had pre-Covid 19. Our choices are severely limited so you may not have the opportunity in the next 60 – 90 days to not have a full flight if it is a route that is only serviced once or twice a week right now.
Q: Cancellation + change policies – is there a quick resource that lists what each airline is doing?
CENTRAV, an airline consolidator for travel agencies, created a comprehensive list but it hasn’t been updated since July or August. That’s probably because most airlines are being VERY flexible so just check each airline’s website for more details!
You should expect to pay a fee for anyone helping you with airfare (you’re paying the OTA’s like Expedia and Priceline to do this too, it’s just hidden). The fee is typically between $50 – $150 per person.
Q: When should I plan future travel?
We’re advising the following: Domestic – You can go anytime if you’re comfortable and aware of your states restrictions/requirements upon arrival back home. You must also pay attention to the rules for the state you’re traveling to, then go! We’re seeing most folks plan with less than 30 days notice (and I’d say even closer in than that)!
International – the industry is generalizing that you should plan for April 1 or later. There are certainly some places letting U.S. Passport holders in (I believe we’re at 30 now), but if you want to be even more cautious and comfortable, plan for June or later!
Holiday travel is still going to be popular, not as much as previous years of course, but if you’re planning to travel then – book that now! The cancellation and change policies are the most flexible we’ve ever seen in modern travel.
I also have a blog post on “how” to plan travel in the ‘C’ times that you may find helpful!
And a shameless plug, it’s our job to keep on top of the ever changing policies and rules. You don’t actually have to do that yourself! You can hire a travel advisor to handle everything from research to reservations to managing Covid restrictions and making sure all goes well!