Social Distancing in the Sky

What to Know about Flying Right Now

Here's what five popular airlines are doing to keep customers safe.

By Paola Kustra July 2, 2020

Mask up and slather on your 12 ounces of sanitizer.

At the beginning of the pandemic, traveling seemed far away on the horizon for most of us, but as cities continue to reopen, it’s fast becoming a thing of the present for some. Like with many other industries, however, airlines are having to quickly adapt to protect travelers and employees alike. If you’re planning a trip for business or pleasure, travel will likely not be the same as the last time you boarded a plane.

We checked in with five of Houston’s favorite carriers to find out the measures they’re taking to protect passengers as best they can. All five of these carriers have some safety measures in common: You must wear a mask on board (and, as of June 22, inside Houston airports as well), though airlines now stock masks in the event of non-compliance, loss, or need for replacement. They all have new enhanced air filtering; cleaning and disinfecting processes in between flights; and offer some flexibility for changing flights, including reduced (or no) fees.

Also keep in mind—the TSA now allows one hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces (larger than the standard 3.4 ounces for liquids) per person in carry-ons, which you can expect to be screened separately. You'll also want to make sure to check with the city, state, or country of your destination for any specific guidelines, and to make sure that airports are open. Some states (like New York) are now requiring quarantine upon landing, some countries are requiring you to print and sign a certificate to confirm good health, and others have their main airports closed. The EU also remains closed to American travelers at this time.

With all that in mind, here’s what to expect if you fly anytime soon.


Boarding: Now begins with groups 4 and 5, who sit toward the back of the plane, to avoid proximity with already-seated passengers.

Seating: One seat left vacant in between passengers; families may sit together.

Occupancy: Currently at 70 percent of capacity. If more people than that book a seat, an email will be sent to all passengers to look for volunteers to find another flight.  

Additional safety measures: Passengers must answer questions regarding their wellbeing during check-in. If any symptoms are present, they'll have to call the airline to rebook.

Snacks: Pre-packed snacks, bottled water or can of soda; on longer flights, Business First may also get choice of a meal in sealed container.


Boarding: Business Select continues to board first.

Seating: Middle seat blocked.

Occupancy: Limited to about one-third capacity.

Additional safety measures: Passengers must answer a questionnaire during check-in.

Snacks: Bottled water.


Boarding: Boarding groups from the back of the plane to the front to limit contact between passengers.

Seating: Middle seat left vacant; families may sit together; first class will leave one seat open unless booked by family members.

Occupancy:  Currently at 60 percent of capacity; customers won’t be allowed to book beyond that.

Additional safety measures: To help enforce the use of masks, a passenger who is non-compliant may be put on a No-fly list.

Snacks: Pre-packed snack, bottled water; First Class also gets choice of pre-packed meal on flights longer than 900 miles.

American Airlines

Boarding: No change; boarding per group assigned when you check in.

Seating: No restrictions, maintain social distancing guidelines.

Additional safety measures: Passengers asked about potential COVID-19 symptoms during check-in.

Occupancy: Varies depending on flight.

Snacks: Beverage service only, even for Business First.


Boarding: Passengers now board by row number in smaller groups from the back to the front of the plane.  

Seating:  Middle seats blocked; aisle seats left open on regional jets; family members may sit together.

Occupancy: Aircrafts occupied at 65 percent of capacity.

Snacks: No food/beverage service on flights under 350 miles; water or soda for longer flights with pre-packed snacks also available in first class.

Wherever your destination may bebe safe!

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