/Most surprising things about flying during the pandemic – Business Insider

Most surprising things about flying during the pandemic – Business Insider


  • The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way I travel with a new focus on safety altering how I approach flying.
  • After taking seven flights in June, however, I was the most surprised by the lack of changes coming from some airlines and airports, despite COVID-19 cases rising across the country.  
  • I found that the busiest airports and the largest airlines are doing the least when they should be doing the most. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A lifetime of flying couldn’t prepare me for the coronavirus pandemic and how it would change the way we take to the skies. 

In June, I flew on the country’s top four largest airlines with flights on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. With the greatest number of aircraft and routes, these airlines are industry leaders and brought in billions of dollars in yearly revenue before the pandemic saw them lose millions each day. 

Before the pandemic, flying for me was as easy as riding a bike as I had gotten to know the airline industry inside and out after taking countless flights. I would often book the cheapest flight on any airline, arrive at the terminal just a few minutes before boarding, and breeze through the airport like George Clooney’s character in “Up in the Air,” still making it to the gate before my row was called.

After my trips in June, it became clear that travel was going to be different for a while but what shocked me most wasn’t the adjustments that I would need to make but the lack of adjustments that some of the airlines and airports were making.

Here’s why.

Not all airlines value safety in the same way

Social Distancing on American and Delta

American Airlines planes in Atlanta.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


The concept of safety varies from airline to airline. On each trip I took, I went from one airline that was entirely gung-ho about safety and social distancing to another airline that was less concerned. Going from one directly to the other, it didn’t take long to spot the differences.

On my second flight with American Airlines, for example, I was auto-assigned a middle seat when I checked in because I had a basic economy ticket. It was a risk I was willing to take, of course, but there were other seats and entire open rows available.

Had it not been for a kind gate agent, I would have had to either take the middle seat or hope that I could change seats mid-flight. This came just after I had taken a Delta flight where all middle seats and some aisle seats were blocked. 

American was the only airline where, if it weren’t for the face-covering requirement and suspension of in-flight service, I wouldn’t know that there was a pandemic going on, especially as the airline started filling flights to capacity starting July 1. Everything else was the same from the boarding procedure to the nickel-and-dime basic economy rules that seek to punish passengers.

Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when a sitting US senator called out the airline on Twitter and vowed to introduce legislation to block middle seats

The biggest takeaway from that experience was that now, safety needs to be taken into account when flying, not just who has the cheapest price or the best schedule. Choose your airlines wisely.

The airport experience may vary

Airport social distancing practices

Social distancing signage at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider


My first flight back took me from Hartford, Connecticut to Atlanta on Delta Air Lines. As soon as I arrived at the airport in Hartford, I was greeted with a sign reminding me to wear a mask as it would be required in the terminal before I even left the parking garage. 

I came prepared with a face mask and gladly donned it for the duration of the journey to Georgia as Delta would also requiring a face covering onboard the aircraft. But as soon as I stepped off of the plane into the jetway at the airport in Atlanta, that restriction no longer applied as Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport didn’t require passengers to wear any face covering. 

While a major regional airport, Hartford’s Bradley International Airport barely compares to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, which was the world’s busiest airport before the pandemic, and I was stunned that the smaller airport would require face coverings but not the larger one. 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in June that Atlanta’s primary gateway had wanted to implement the regulation but was blocked due to the Georgia governor’s executive order. A few weeks after that report, Atlanta’s mayor ordered face masks to be worn in public, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, but not before three Delta passengers who had flown from Albany to Atlanta tested positive for COVID-19 one day after their flight, USA Today reported.

The disparity in airport rules are narrowing with more airports implementing rules about the practice but as there’s no nationwide standard, don’t expect everybody to wear a mask when they’re not required to. 

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