These times need no introduction, especially as the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to spread through the United States. What do we do while traveling? How can we be sure planes are clean? How will the airport experience change?
Basically: is it safe to go to the airport and fly?
As American Airlines expands their schedules on July 9th, they say yes, and I went to DFW Airport yesterday to see for myself.
A quick aside about masks:
Wear one. Just, please, wear one. They’re annoying and all that but now isn’t the time for the argument.
A revised customer experience during check-in (either at home or at the airport)
At the airport
When you think about flying during a pandemic, what immediately comes to mind are all the times you have to touch something. Checking in at an airport is no different. From the screens to the ticket counters, there are a lot of touch points. American has new signage encouraging social distancing and asking that you wear a mask. Hand sanitizer stations are all over the terminal area as well.
At the ticket counters, you’ll see plenty of social distancing markers on the ground, which were largely being followed by those I observed at the airport.
When you make it to the ticket counter, all of the American team members will be wearing masks and there will be a Plexiglass screen between you and them.
American is asking that you not lean on the ticket counters at this time and the red stanchions make that point.
Other than the masks and the plexiglass, everything was running pretty smoothly and customers didn’t seem affected by it. I think at this point, everyone understands we’re in a new normal and both customers and the airlines are adjusting.
But what about the self-service kiosks? There are strike teams who constantly rotate from TSA checkpoints to the ticket counters to the self-service kiosks to clean and wipe down any screen the customer would touch.
And when you check in using the self-service kiosk, a new screen will pop up with a quick health assessment (developed in conjunction with Vanderbilt University Medical Center) before allowing you to check in.
On the app
Checking in via the app will be largely the same, with the exception of a new health check screen which will pop up during the check-in process.
At TSA checkpoints
TSA checkpoints seemed normal, with the exception of plexiglass separators between the officers and passengers. Obviously this isn’t specific to American but thought it was worth showing anyway.
At the Admirals Club
American reopened select Admirals Clubs on June 22nd and more will be coming online as demand returns. The experience will be a bit different than usual. We went to the Terminal A Admirals Club to see how different it would be (you can check out my full review of the beautiful new club here). First off, it needs to be noted that Admirals Club capacity is currently restricted to 50% and, unfortunately, some guests will likely be turned away during busier travel times (like the approaching July 4th holiday weekend).
Checking in and finding a seat
When we arrived in the check-in area, social distancing markers were on the ground and the now-familiar plexiglass separators were up.
When we walked into the wonderfully-decorated entrance hall, what used to be an intersection of humanity is now a greeting stand staffed by an absolutely lovely American team member who will now ask you where you’d like to sit and walk you to a specific area to ensure that groups of customers are kept a safe distance apart.
When customers are seated, a social distancing marker will be placed in the seats nearby to not only show that those seats shouldn’t be taken but also to mark which seats need to be cleaned upon customer departure.
What’s open and closed
There are certain areas of the lounge that are still closed: namely the kids areas, the showers, and (specific to the DFW Terminal A Admirals Club) my favorite area to sit.
How food and beverage are different
To ensure safety, food and beverage will be a little different at the Admirals Club. The buffet and self-serve areas are barren for now, that’s probably the most jarring visual.
There is food, though. The place to go is to the bar area.
The bar area is not only serving a full bar’s worth of drinks (not just beer and wine), but they also have bar snacks which they can give you. For customers who would like a little bit more to snack on, American will provide pre-packaged snacks upon request.
In the restrooms, footpulls have been installed on all doors to give customers a hands-free way of opening doors without needing to waste a paper towel opening the door.
(and yes, using a $10,000 camera to take a picture of a bathroom door while a customer wonders what the heck is going on is ridiculous lol)
When customers depart, there are cleaning carts staged in each “zone” of the Admirals Club to ensure a quick clean to make the space ready for the next guests.
At the boarding gate
The boarding gates are largely the same, with the exception of the now-familiar social distancing placards on the ground and plexiglass separators at the gate agent desk.
Ensuring a clean and safe plane for American Airlines passengers
Let’s get one thing out of the way, especially as American and other airlines have received criticism for no longer blocking middle seats on its flights: an airline seat is 18.5″ wide. Even if a middle seat is blocked, social distancing on a jet is just impossible. So what is American doing to ensure its planes are as clean as possible?
After every flight, each plane is cleaned by a crew of people who wipe down every high-touch surface for both passengers and crew. We went aboard a 787 to watch some of the cleaning taking place.
Additionally, at least once a week a virus-killing electrostatic spray is applied through the cabin of the aircraft. This spray coats the surface of the aircraft and kills 99.9999% of viruses and bacteria within 10 minutes and remains active for 7 days.
HEPA filters have been used on most passenger aircraft, and indeed at American, since the late 1990s. These are the same filters used in hospitals around the world. American indicated that the HEPA filters in use on American’s fleet capture at least 99.97% of airborne microbes by circulating the cabin air once every 2 to 4 minutes.
In the air
The biggest adjustment on the plane will be the insistence that customers wear masks at all times throughout the flight. Just. wear. it.
Cabin service has been modified to minimize contact between passengers and crew, with pre-packaged food available upon request on certain flights and drink service also being upon request instead of the usual trolley service.
Making the best of the current situation
There are plenty of reasons people are traveling right now. Some have to for work, some have to because they’re going insane at home, and others because of family emergencies and such. It’s important to understand what to expect at the airport and on board your next flight because it will seem different than before.
I think American’s policies and procedures reflect the realities of the COVID-19 world and are keeping the process as familiar as possible while remaining as safe as they can.