Experiencing the New World of Air Travel During COVID-19


Courtesy of Forbes

Elle MacDonald, Reporter

Airplane travel has been forced to adapt to the new world of COVID-19. I was able to experience this on a recent trip to Hawaii.

In the midst of an airborne pandemic, travel by plane has become taboo for most Americans. COVID-19 has knocked down air travel as we know it and adjusted it for this new way of life. 

With the fear of contracting COVID-19 at the forefront of many people’s minds, airlines have worked hard to provide peace of mind to all passengers. Yet, even with the new precautions, many wonder if it is enough.

Among the vast majority of airlines, the following are common procedures being implemented to keep everyone safe:

HEPA Air Filters are standard filtration systems installed in most modern aircrafts even before the pandemic. These filters remove 99.97% of particulate matter, including viruses and bacteria, every two to three minutes.

Along with these high-powered air filters, airlines now strongly encourage flyers to check in via cell phone app or online. Not only does this reduce time waiting, it is completely contactless and decreases the chances of being exposed to the virus. 

Masks must be worn at all times in the airport and on the flight. In cases such as eating, masks must return over your nose between each bite. 

Many fear the danger comes from something out of the airline’s control; the integrity and honesty of the passengers. While people are required to disclose whether or not they are experiencing symptoms, it is not scrutinized or enforced. Lying, in order to remain able to access the plane, is something that would be fairly easy to get away with. 

In addition, COVID-19 tests are recommended but not required by all airlines before admittance. This is something that rubs many potential customers the wrong way. 

For my travel to Hawaii, a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the airplane departing was required. Airline companies have lists of recommended testing sites that are verified by the airport. It is encouraged to select from one of these to ensure the airline deems your test valid. 

Immediately upon entering the airport, I was surprised by the number of people. I had imagined a relatively quiet experience walking in. While it wasn’t packed, it certainly caught me off guard. This may be due to the fact that we were traveling during a very popular week in the year. 

We flew via Southwest, who has altered their boarding regulations by only allowing groups of 10 at a time to take their seats. When I boarded, I was able to have an open seat between the person I was going with and myself, but the airplane was a lot more full than expected. Most aisles had two occupants and a free seat.  

Upon arrival, we were ushered into a very well-organized line. There, we were swabbed again to confirm a second negative test. They allowed us to leave the airport immediately. If we hadn’t received a phone call within 45 minutes, we were negative. 

We were required to stay at our home until we confirmed our results, and at that point we were able to leave the house. 

However, a negative test was not required to fly back to California. 

For some, travel by plane will be a thing of the past until we have completely left this pandemic behind.

As a nervous flyer myself, I don’t see myself voluntarily flying again during the pandemic, unless out of necessity. In terms of safety, each individual can judge their respective experience, yet I firmly believe that travel by plane was as safe as it could have possibly been.