Piloting a plane might seem simpler for some passengers than navigating a plethora of differing COVID-19 safety policies implemented by the nation’s airlines.
While Alaska and Delta have taken the lead on leaving middle seats unsold, limiting plane capacity, cleaning before every flight and back-to-front boarding, only Frontier checks passengers’ temperatures at the gate and denies boarding to anyone at 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. But Frontier only blocks certain middle seats to ensure more social distancing, while American won’t guarantee any spacing – leading to photos of jam-packed planes circulating on social media.
Most airlines except Allegiant require masks for anyone but young children or those with specified medical conditions, but some will ban noncompliant passengers from future flights while staff on others seem willing to look the other way for major offenses.
“It seems to us that the airlines, FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] and the various states and federal health departments need to get together to develop health standards for all commercial aircraft,’’ Douglas Kidd, executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers, which lobbies for fliers’ rights, said in an email.
Instead, it’s a wild West of differing approaches. For instance, Delta, American and Southwest have banned alcoholic drinks on domestic flights to encourage passengers to keep masks on longer. But American still offers them upon request in first class, as does Alaska for premium and first-class passengers on flights longer than 350 miles, while United serves “sealed beverages” but not poured alcohol.
Kidd’s association last month urged federal authorities to impose emergency rules on airlines to achieve “minimal social distancing standards” foremost among them limiting aircraft capacity to 50%. It has yet to hear back.
Delta caps its first-class domestic cabins at 50% capacity and an industry-best 60% in the main cabin. Alaska has capped all flights at 65% capacity, but American and United haven’t limited their capacity.
While Delta has guaranteed the reduced passenger loads through Sept. 30, Alaska and JetBlue have pledged theirs only through July, while some airlines like Hawaiian are declining to provide end dates.
America will reseat passengers after boarding to create more distance between them if space permits, or allow passengers on full flights to switch to a different flight at no added cost. United says it notifies passengers in advance when flights are more than 70% booked and gives them the option of switching.
The two airlines were also among the industry’s first to impose tougher compliance rules for masks, threatening to ban passengers refusing to wear them from future flights. Last Wednesday, American removed passenger Brandon Straka from a plane departing New York for Dallas where he’d planned to head onward to Seattle when he refused crew instructions to don his mask.
On Sunday, a Frontier passenger was taken off a Denver-bound plane at the gate in Los Angeles,also for refusing to wear a mask.
Some airlines provide free masks for their passengers, but JetBlue, Frontier and Spirit won’t and American makes only a limited number available.
There’s also the delicate issue of mask enforcement – especially once the plane has taken off. While Alaska requires all passengers to wear masks unless they’re eating or drinking, some passengers on flights last week reported that flight attendants weren’t enforcing the rules.