LAST UPDATED JULY 15, 2020
With no federal regulations to unify their responses, the major U.S. airlines have to figure out how to deal with Covid-19 in their own ways.
All of them have instituted new full-cabin cleaning procedures, but after that, protective measures vary.
Let's start with what the big North American carriers have in common. One is face masks. For flying purposes, a mask can be any secured cloth such a scarf or bandana, as long as it covers your nose and mouth (there are exceptions for small children). For all airlines, employees and crew members will be masked. But there are subtle differences in how masks are enforced or supplied, so each airline's policy is explained below.
Be aware that although all airlines claim wearing masks is part of their official policies, not all of them are actually enforcing the use of masks. The safety gap has become so severe that two U.S. senators have begged the Trump Administration to standardize rules for the health of all passengers.
In cases when seat assignments are blocked for social distancing purposes, customers can usually ask the airline to unblock those seats so parties can sit together. Magazines and menus have been removed from seatback pockets.
Most airlines have closed their lounges and are encouraging customers to use virtual check-in and ticketing. Passengers will be asked to check in their luggage at kiosks and scan their own mobile boarding passes at the gate, if possible, but assistance will be provided to customers who require it.
Most airlines are not allowing checked pets but will allow service animals and carry-on pets as long as they meet requirements. Procedures for unaccompanied minors remain unchanged.
Here's what the airlines say they're doing. We'll keep this list of safety measures updated as procedures develop.
Departure times: Gates close 30 minutes before departure (previously 15 minutes).
Masks: "Air Canada will require all customers to wear cloth coverings or masks over their mouth and nose while at check-in, during the boarding process and during flights on its aircraft. . . . It is the customers’ responsibility to bring the proper face covering with them. Air Canada will not distribute masks to customers."
Middle seats: The airline is spreading customers around "to have as few people sitting next to one another as possible." If the airline cannot "accommodate adequate social distancing, customers can choose to travel on a later flight at no additional cost."
Temperature checks and tracing: Per the Canadian government, all passengers undergo temperature checks. Per Canadian regulations, when a passenger has been identified as coronavirus-positive after the flight ends, "in most situations, information of the persons situated 3 rows ahead and behind the infected person are provided to the health authority."
Food and beverage: In-flight service is suspended (except for flights to Honolulu). Passengers are given "individual water bottles instead of our bar service offerings and pillows and blankets will no longer be available." Also, "for Air Canada Rouge, iPads will no longer be offered."
Supplies: A free kit provided to passengers includes 30 ml hand sanitizer, 2 antiseptic wipes, gloves, mask (non-surgical), 250 ml water bottle.
Masks: "Face masks are required for all guests 12 and over and employees. Mask and face covering exceptions include: children under age 2, anyone with trouble breathing, anyone who cannot remove a mask without assistance or anyone with a disability that prevents wearing a mask." If a passenger forgets to bring a mask, the airline will provide one.
Middle seats: Select seats blocked for purchase and flights capped at 65% capacity until July 31, 2020. Passengers who want to sit together can make the request with reservations in advance or at the airport on the day of travel.
Food and beverage: Bottled water and a packaged snack are provided (nothing for flights traveling less than 350 miles).
Entertainment: Tablets have been removed except on flights to and from Hawaii and Florida.
Supplies: Bring your own, but the airline warns against using commercial wipes on leather seats: "The cloth might look dirty afterward, but it’s actually the leather dye color that’s coming off." Starting in July, individual hand-sanitizer wipes will also be available on board.
Masks: They're encouraged but not required.
Middle seats: Allegiant will not promise to leave seats empty for social distancing. Instead, "customers are encouraged not to book the middle seat, unless it’s to ensure families can sit together." Customers may request to be notified if a flight reservations are more than 65% full.
Food and beverage: Refreshments are sealed and single-serve. There is one service per flight, but passengers may request additional service.
Supplies: A free kit provided to passengers includes a "single-use face mask, disposable gloves (non-latex) and two sanitizing wipes."
Masks: The airline's official guidance: "Be sure your face covering is on before you board the plane and wear it during your flight." There are reports the airline is not enforcing the use of masks during fights, but the airline claims passengers "may be denied boarding and future travel on American" if they refuse to wear one. American will not promise it can always supply passengers with masks.
Middle seats: American Airlines will not promise to leave them empty. As of July 1, American Airlines is booking its cabins to full capacity. If a flight is full, the airline claims it will give passengers the opportunity to book another flight without an extra fee.
Food and beverage: Water, canned drinks, and juice by request only. For flights longer than 900 miles, free Biscoff cookies are distributed. No snacks or food are available for sale. Alcohol is not served on domestic flights. Alcohol and meals are only served on international flights.
Supplies: Sanitizing wipes or gels and face masks will be provided to customers "as supplies and operational conditions allow."
Delta Air Lines
Masks: The airline's official guidance: "All customers must wear a mask or face covering, and extra masks and wellness kits will be available at check-in if you need one." There are reports the airline is not enforcing the use of masks during fights.
Middle seats: Until Sept. 30, Delta Air Lines is capping selected "seating at 50% in First Class; 60% in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+, and Delta Premium Select; and 75% in Delta One." This includes blocking middle seats (or, in aircraft with 2x2 configurations, some aisle seats). On routes where flights near the capped capacity, the airline will "look for opportunities to upsize to a larger aircraft type or add more flying." Flights are boarded from back to front. This policy is likely to be extended after Sept. 30.
Food and beverage: Passengers receive a sealed snack and small bottle of water. Flight attendants do not serve alcohol, ice, or plastic cups, and there is no meal service on domestic flights. Alcohol is only served to passengers in premium cabins (First Class and Comfort+), and only on flights longer than 500 miles.
Supplies: Hand cleanser or cleansing towelettes will be provided to customers "when available." Also: "All blankets and bedding are laundered after every flight and Main Cabin pillows disposed of after use."
Masks: "All Frontier customers will be required to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth throughout their journey." Passengers must supply their own masks.
Middle seats: Frontier Airlines will not promise to leave them empty.
Temperature checks: Screenings for all passengers and team members will be required "prior to boarding flights. . . . 100.4 degrees or higher will not be allowed to fly, including crew members."
Food and beverage: They are served only upon passenger request.
Supplies: Bring your own sanitizer.
Masks: "All customers are now required to wear a face covering over their nose & mouth throughout their journey, including during check-in, boarding, while in flight and deplaning."
Middle seats: They're "blocked for purchase on our larger aircraft, and most aisle seats are blocked for purchase on our smaller aircraft." This action is currently scheduled to last through Sept. 7.
Temperature checks: JetBlue has added mandatory inspections for employees.
Food and beverage: Refreshments are served in pre-sealed and single-use packaging.
Supplies: Disinfectant wipes are provided to customers upon request.
Masks: They're required. "It is highly encouraged to bring your own hand sanitizer and face covering. If you forget your face covering at home, a mask will be available for you."
Middle seats: Southwest doesn't use seat assignments, but it has pledged to limit capacity on every flight so customers can maintain distance on their own. "Middle seats open through at least September 30."
Food and beverage: "Cans of water with straws and a snack mix on flights over 250 miles, when available. For all other flights, snack and beverage service is suspended until further notice to limit close interactions."
Supplies: Free wipes are also available for passengers.
Masks: "Guests will be required to wear appropriate face coverings (over the nose and mouth) when traveling with Spirit. Young children are exempt from this requirement. Spirit used to say that customers who don't wear masks "must wear a face shield" instead, but that advice no longer appears in its guidance. Passengers should supply their own masks. If you forget, Spriit will sell you one for $3.
Middle seats: "Some flights may be more full than others. If you have any questions about your specific flight, please feel free to contact us."
Food and beverage: Service is by passenger request only.
Supplies: Passengers should bring their own.
Masks: "Travelers are required to wear a face covering on board. United representatives will have masks available [at no cost] for those who need one." The airline claims that passengers who do not comply "will be placed on an internal travel restriction list" to prohibit future travel on United flights.
Middle seats: United will not promise to keep middle seats empty. "For regularly scheduled flights that are expected to be fairly full, we’ll let you change your flight with no change fee or receive a travel credit for your trip. We'll do our best to contact you about 24 hours before your departure time so you can decide before you arrive at the airport."
Temperature checks: United has instituted inspections for employees at its hub airports, but not at all airports.
Food and beverage: Refreshments are served in pre-sealed and single-use packaging but Economy passengers won't receive one unless the flight is longer than 2 hrs. 20 min.
Supplies: Sanitizing wipes are provided to passengers upon boarding.