Flying for the holidays?  You should quarantine after.

Image: By DimaBerlin

Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and after months of social distancing some of us are eagerly anticipating holiday get-togethers of family and friends, even if it means changing plans to keep gatherings small with safety guidelines in effect.

But getting there? Sometimes driving isn’t an option and your plans require getting on a plane. With that in mind, here’s how a few of Houston’s favorite carriers have updated their rules for the holidays. While we wait for a much-anticipated vaccine, let’s fasten our seat belts and get ready for take-off with enough information at hand to make it the healthiest possible travel season—do check out CDC guidelines for safe travel and prepare to quarantine after your flight if you really want to protect your loved ones.

Measures to expect on all of these carriers.

All five of the airlines we are looking at have a few of the same safety measures in effect right now. Wearing masks is mandatory on board all flights and (as of June) inside Houston airports, too. Carriers stock supplemental masks in the event of non-compliance, loss or need for a replacement. Planes now have enhanced air filtering, cleaning and disinfecting processes in between flights. Also, flexibility is still key when it comes to ticketing. These carriers will allow you to change flights with reduced fees or no fees at all through the end of 2020. 

Make sure to head to TSA.gov for security checkpoint rules as well. You may still bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in your carry-on. In fact, it's recommended. But do expect these containers—larger than the standard allowance of 3.4 ounces—to be screened separately. Travelers are also encouraged to check with the state or country of destination to understand if any specific guidelines apply and if airports are open as regulations are frequently updated.

United Airlines

Boarding: Now begins with groups 4 and 5 (at the back of the plane) to avoid proximity with those already seated. 

Seating: All seats are now available for selection; no blocking of middle seats.

Occupancy:  No cap, but when the flight reaches 70 percent of capacity, an email is sent out to passengers with the option to reschedule to a flight within five days. Change is at the passenger's discretion.

Additional safety measures: Passengers must answer questions regarding their well-being during online check-in (24 hours before departure). If any symptoms are present, they will be instructed to call the airline to rebook. 

The snack sitch: Pre-packed snack (or meal) and bottled water/soda cans to limit contact, depending on duration of the flight. Business-first food includes pre-packed boxes, choice of a meal in sealed container (for longer flights) and bottled water, soda cans, and small bottled alcohol.

Change fees? Permanently eliminated for most Economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S. (including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but not Guam) or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean. For international flights and basic economy domestic tickets, changes are allowed without fees if the ticket has been issued by December 31, 2020. 

Delta

Boarding: Begins with passengers seated in the back of the plane.

Seating: Middle seat left vacant. Limited to one seat in first class, unless family members are traveling together.

Occupancy: Capped at 60 percent—customers won’t be allowed to book beyond this. First class and business booking are capped at up to 50 percent. Blocked seats to keep passengers spaced apart are slated to be standard through Jan. 6.

Additional safety measures: Every passenger has to answer questions about well-being during online check in; any passengers refusing to mask-up can be placed on the No-fly list.

The snack sitch: Snacks and meals in main cabin. Pre-packed snacks, or pre-packed meals on longer flights, for first class.

Change Fees? No change fees for travel within the U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (excluding basic economy fares). Also, Delta is still waiving all change fees for customers who purchase a ticket from March 2020 through the end of this year for both U.S. and international travel in all cabins.

American Airlines

Boarding: No changes to standard process.

Seating: No restrictions; passengers are instructed to maintain social distancing guidelines when possible.

Occupancy: No cap in place; aircrafts may fill all available capacity, without restrictions.

Additional safety measures: Travelers must answer health questions when checking in; Temperatures are measured at boarding.

The snack sitch: Regular beverage service is offered in the main cabin (and meals on international flights over four-and-a-half hours). Snacks are provided in business or first class for flights traveling more than 900 miles.

Change fees? Eliminated for all domestic and short-haul international tickets issued on or after August 31, 2020 (except for basic economy fares). This includes all flights within the U.S. and those traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico or USVI.

Alaska

Boarding: In groups; standard boarding.

Seating: Blocked middle seat; aisle seats left vacant on regional jets. In first class, blocked seats are allotted to keep passengers spaced apart, unless they are traveling with family.

Occupancy: Aircrafts occupied at up to 65 percent of capacity.

Additional safety measures: Passengers will be asked to complete a health agreement, which confirms they haven't exhibited Covid-19 symptoms in the past 72 hours, and that they haven't been in close proximity to someone who has tested positive.

The snack sitch:  Soft drinks are offered in the main cabin. Pre-packed containers of fruit, cheese, and bottled water or soft drinks in first class.

Change fees? All eliminated, excluding Saver fares. Alaska has also extended its flexible travel policy for all new ticket purchases, including Saver fares through Dec. 31, 2020. 

Southwest

Boarding: Ten people at a time, according to the group assigned when checking in. Business select continues to board first.

Seating: The airline is blocking the middle seat until the end of November.

Occupancy: Limited capacity due to the blocking of seats.

Additional safety measures: Passengers must answer health questions when checking in.

The snack sitch: Bottled water.

Change fees? As of September 2020, any travel funds created from a nonrefundable Wanna Get Away ticket can be used for up to one year from the original purchase date. Travel funds with an expiration date of Sept. 7, 2022 can be converted into Rapid Rewards points at the same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today. 

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