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Which Airlines Are Taking the Most Thorough COVID-19 Safety Precautions?

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Hoping to travel during the holiday season? We broke down the safety precautions of five major American airlines.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, air travel has taken a serious hit. Major airlines are currently reporting losses in the billions. As the airline industry makes moves towards recovery, it’s had to woo back customers with the assurance of a safe journey.

A recent study conducted by Harvard University declared that traveling by plane can be safer than visiting the grocery store or a restaurant. The study rigged a dummy with a mechanical aerosol spray that mimicked a person speaking, sneezing, or coughing across the air cabin, both with and without masks on. The test concluded that the risk of exposure was minimal, with the highest risk coming from passengers seated in the same row as the infected person.

According to the CDC website, flying does pose an increased risk of contracting coronavirus, however, the CDC explains that because of the way air circulates on a plane, exposure to a virus or germs in in fact low. The biggest risk comes in the form of close contact with passengers—either in crowded airport terminals and lines or on the plane itself, especially if the flight is incapable of enforcing social distancing measures.

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Every major airline is forced to comply with rigorous safety measures to protect passengers, but some are going above and beyond to ensure a comfortable and safe travel experience.

We researched five U.S. carriers, looked over their policies, read the fine print, and found that all of them have at least the following precautions in place:

  • HEPA Air Filters: HEPA air filters, or high-efficiency particulate air filters, are a standard in most modern aircraft, but in the age of COVID-19, are particularly important because they circulate air every 2-3 minutes, removing 99.97% of particles, including viruses and bacteria.
  • Contactless Check-In: All of the airlines mentioned have the option of a contactless check-in via their apps.
  • Require Customers to Provide Some Form of Health Disclosure: Customers must disclose if they’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 before boarding.
  • Masks: These are required to be worn and are provided for the entire journey, including pre-boarding.

United Airlines

On United Airlines’ site, customers can access a detailed breakdown of their new flight experience, CleanPlus. They’ve partnered with Clorox to ensure their cleanliness guidelines “meet or exceed” the CDC standard. Prior to boarding, customers can expect sneeze guards to minimize face-to-face interaction and access to hand sanitizing stations. Customers are also allowed to self-scan their own boarding passes.

After pre-boarding, United boards a small number of customers at a time (though their site doesn’t provide specifics) and boards back to front.

During your flight, customers are provided with sanitizing wipes and all-in-one snack bags to reduce crew movement onboard. Unfortunately, United flyers may experience a fuller flight as the company is not longer adopting a blocked-out seat or open middle seat policy. They do promise to alert customers who might experience a full flight. Want to change your flight or cancel? United is waiving change and cancellation fees through the end of 2020.

Flying can be anxiety-inducing enough, so make sure you prepare yourself by learning what airlines are doing to protect you from coronavirus.

Delta Air Lines

Similar to United, Delta has also partnered with a nationally recognized brand in an effort to maximize safety. Partnering with Lysol and introducing a new safety experience, Delta CareStandard, the airline has implemented a variety of cleanliness measures. The pre-boarding experience includes sanitization stations, floor markers, and sneeze guards. Delta also performs regular temperature checks on all its employees.

Delta has a boarding procedure of ten people at a time, seating back to front. Passengers are provided with a complimentary snack bag that includes a snack, face mask, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and a water bottle to minimize food and beverage services on board.

Delta’s precautions and flashy brand partnership seem similar to United’s, but, unlike United, the airline has chosen to block out middle seats through March 2021.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines COVID-19 precaution landing page is fairly bare-bones but provides helpful and straightforward information. Expect sanitization stations, newly installed sneeze guards, and floor markers.

Southwest has a ten-person at a time boarding policy, however, customers are allowed to choose their own seats upon boarding.

The airline has also implemented an empty middle seat policy until November 30, so if you’re looking to make a quick trip for Thanksgiving, Southwest might be a safe bet.

Spirit Airlines

Let’s first get this out of the way: In July, a passenger onboard a Spirit flight from Las Vegas to Dallas died from COVID-19. The aircraft was rerouted to Albuquerque after the woman became unresponsive mid-flight. She was pronounced dead in Albuquerque where medical examiners announced she was infected with COVID-19. 

So, what is Spirit doing to keep passengers safe? When it comes to unique precautions, Spirit Airlines COVID-19 FAQ page points passengers towards their self-tagging and self-bag drop features which allow customers to bypass bag-checking lines entirely.

Onboard, passengers receive food and beverage service only if requested. Spirit has no middle seat open policy or capacity restrictions, so expect the possibility of a full flight. However, the airline is also waiving cancellation and change fees until December 21.

Spirit’s website also includes the specific travel regulations of all the destinations it services. And while masks aren’t complimentary (they’ll set you back $3), the proceeds of all masks sold go to one of their charitable partners—No Kid Hungry, the YMCA, Jack & Jill Children’s Center, or the American Red Cross.


JetBlue is well known for its elegant, state-of-the-art, and energy-efficient designs, but do the airline’s COVID-19 precautions meet the same high standards?

In addition to rigorous cleanliness standards and another back-to-front boarding process, JetBlue is the only airline on this list to explicitly mention their crew wearing medical-grade masks and gloves. And speaking of JetBlue’s crew, their site mentions extended PTO and sick leave available to staff during the pandemic. This assures staff members don’t feel obligated to still report to work, even when feeling ill or possibly after being exposed to coronavirus.

JetBlue also has the longest extension of waived cancellation and change fees on this list, which continue until February 28.

Potential passengers can also expect more legroom than any other airline, with a 70% max capacity and blocked-out seating. 

Flying can be anxiety-inducing enough, so make sure you prepare yourself by learning what airlines are doing to protect you from coronavirus.

philsego November 20, 2020

Since covid-19 is spread through aerosols, the primary information is entirely missing from this article: how diligently and consistently the airlines enforce PROPER mask usage. There are countless stories of non-enforcement, exposed noses, and enen flight attendants who flout this requirement. Until airlines choose to place someone on board who enforces this, people will avoid flying like the plague.