How to Keep Safe While Traveling During a Pandemic

Airlines, airports work to maintain safe environments, but taking precautions helps

By Jesse Geleynse

Published May 11, 2020

Read Time: 5 mins


The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically curtailed air travel around the world, and airports are experiencing a significant decrease in passenger traffic. However, most of them remain open for essential travel.

Airports have stepped up their cleaning regimen and airlines have adopted new measures to protect travelers. Last Thursday, for example, Frontier Airlines became the first domestic airline to announce it would screen passengers for abnormal temperatures, beginning next month. (Read after the story to learn more about current airline requirements for travelers.)

If you do have to travel, experts recommend these precautions to help keep you safe and healthy.

  • Social distancing in an airport? Airports are typically bustling, crowded public spaces, especially at the gates. But the dramatic decline in passenger traffic has made it easier to practice social distancing.

Maintaining a 6-foot social distance from other travelers is important from the moment you enter the airport, said Dr. Raymond Pontzer, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Fortunately—not for the airlines, but for the travelers—the planes are not very congested right now,” Pontzer said.

  • Wash your hands. A lot. We’ve all heard this one, but good old soap and water for 20 seconds is better than hand sanitizer or wearing gloves.

Passengers should wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable, Pontzer said. Many airports, including PIT, have significantly increased the number of sanitizing stations in their terminals since the start of the outbreak.

The Transportation Security Administration recommends passengers wash their hands both before and after going through security checkpoints.“Good hand hygiene is the cornerstone here,” said Pontzer. “Gloves aren’t totally 100 percent effective. They may be a barrier, but do the hand hygiene first and then put the gloves on.”

TSA is temporarily allowing passengers to carry one bottle of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces in your carry-on baggage. But if your bottle is larger than 3.4 ounces, it will need to be screened separately.

  • Face masks for sure, but one may not be enough. Recommended by governments and health agencies for months, face masks have now been made mandatory by most major airlines in recent weeks.

“The face covering is meant to really protect others in the event that you are an asymptomatic carrier, and it contains the droplets that you might not otherwise be able to contain,” said Emily Magee, manager of the infection prevention department at St. Clair Hospital.

Masks can become damp and lose their efficacy over time, so Pontzer recommends that travelers on longer flights change masks every four hours.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, the key mucous membranes where the virus can enter the body.

  • Wipe it down. The airlines have really stepped up their onboard cleaning procedures, but don’t take anything for granted.

Once on the plane, Pontzer and Magee recommend passengers use antibacterial or alcohol-based wipes to clean high-touch surfaces like seat belts, arm rests, tray tables, walls, windows and window shades.

Airplanes use filtered air, so passengers don’t really need to worry about the virus circulating throughout the plane.

“The air circulating wouldn’t be the concern on the airplane,” Magee said. “It’s more if you’re close to somebody sick, just like in the general public if someone is within six feet of you coughing and sneezing. That’s really your risk.”

  • Off the plane, monitor yourself. After a flight, passengers should monitor themselves for symptoms and reach out to their primary care physicians if necessary.

Certain areas around the U.S. and the world have been hit harder than others by the virus, but Pontzer said the disease is so widespread that travelers should be vigilant regardless of their destinations.|

“You are putting yourself at risk so you would want to take some precautions,” he said. “If you had older relatives, or anybody else you would probably refrain from visiting them if you needed to travel once you got back, for a couple of weeks.”


Airlines announce latest cleaning, passenger procedures

American Airlines

  • Flight attendants must wear masks and will offer personal protective equipment to customers.
  • Passengers must wear face coverings.
  • Enhanced cleaning procedures in areas such as tray tables, seatbelt buckles, armrests, window shades, seatback screens, doors and overhead bin handles.
  • Will begin distributing sanitizing wipes or gels and face masks to customers.

Delta Air Lines

  • All employees and partners must wear masks or face coverings when they are unable to maintain a distance of least six feet from others.
  • All customers are required to wear face masks or appropriate face coverings when traveling. Face coverings will be required starting in the check-in lobby and across Delta touchpoints, including Delta Sky Clubs, boarding gate areas, jet bridges and on board the aircraft for the duration of the flight except during meal service.
  • Delta encourages customers to bring their own face coverings, but will make them available for customers who need them. People unable to keep face coverings in place, including children, are exempt.

Frontier Airlines

  • All passengers must wear face coverings over their noses and mouths at the airline’s ticket counters, gate areas and onboard Frontier aircraft. Flight crews have been mandated to wear masks since April 13.
  • All passengers will have their temperatures taken by touchless thermometer before boarding, beginning June 1. Passengers who measure 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be allowed to board.
  • Passengers must complete a health acknowledgement program via the company’s website or mobile app prior to check-in.
  • Introduced a fogging disinfectant to its aircraft cleaning and sanitation protocols. Planes are wiped down every night with additional disinfectant, as well.


  • All passengers and crew members must wear face coverings during travel.
  • Customers are required to wear face coverings over their noses and mouths during check-in, boarding, while in flight and when exiting the plane.
  • Limits the number of seats available for sale on most flights to provide additional space between individuals who are not traveling together.

United Airlines

  • All flight attendants must wear masks or face coverings onboard an aircraft. Masks are also available to customers.
  • Limits seat selections in all cabins to provide additional space between individuals who are not traveling together. The airline also alternates window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs. These restrictions are in place through May 31.


  • All passengers are required to wear masks. Passengers who don’t have a mask will be provided one.
  • Through June, limits the number of people on board each flight so middle seats do not need to be occupied.
  • Changed its boarding process so passengers will board in groups of 10 and only on one side of the boarding poles, to help maintain social distancing.
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