Flying the Socially Distant Skies
Airlines strive to increase safety and passenger numbers
Yesterday, 190,477 people were screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at airports nationwide. On the same day last year, 2,312,727 travelers were screened. With companies continuing to limit work trips and leisure trips looking questionable, the precipitous decline in air travel due to coronavirus is not going to rebound any time soon.
The U.S. airline industry is being helped temporarily by the CARES act, which provided $25 billion to passenger carriers and $4 billion to cargo carriers through the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The grants and loans are intended to prevent layoffs in the near term through the Payroll Support Program. The program will expire at the end of September.
Some of the largest carriers serving Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) have received staggering sums. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury American Airlines’ total anticipated payroll support is $5.8 billion, Delta’s is $5.4 billion and Southwest’s is $3.2 billion. Even so, the airlines are going to have to take drastic measures to reduce their cash burn and weather this storm. Delta reported it has processed more than $1.5 billion in cash refunds to customers since January, including $182 million so far this month.
Unlike something such as the Sept. 11 attacks, when people gradually felt safe flying again after the threat seemed contained, the risk of contracting coronavirus is ominous and ongoing. Airlines are messaging the extra safety measures they have implemented through videos and letters.
In a letter to customers, Delta CEO Ed Bastion said, “Your safety remains paramount, and your feedback helps guide the actions that support wellness and distancing when you choose to travel with Delta. That’s why layers of protection are now in place at every touchpoint of your journey, from beginning to end.”
The letter went on to describe the new protocols Delta has in place, both in the airport terminal and on board their planes. Delta is limiting passenger capacity to 60 percent and will continue blocking middle seats to help with social distancing. It is requiring its employees and passengers to wear face masks in the terminal and onboard during the flight, and will provide them to customers who do not have them. It is installing plexiglass shields at check-in and gate counters this month. Delta is also using electrostatic spraying at its gates, jet bridges and on planes between each flight in addition to wiping down surfaces.
Southwest Airline is touting its Southwest Promise to customers to ensure their safety, as well as the safety of its employees. It will be limiting the number of passengers on flights as air travel increases, allowing for the middle seat to remain empty. It will not be providing beverage or snack service, and it has removed most of the paper items from seatback pockets. It will provide disinfecting wipes to passengers if requested and it is also using electrostatic spraying across its fleet between each flight. Southwest is also requiring face masks to be worn by staff and passengers in the airport and during flights.
Other airlines, including American and Spirit, have joined in the face mask requirement for staff and passengers in the terminal and onboard flights.
The TSA has implemented social distancing measures at security checkpoints in airports. It is also temporarily allowing travelers to have hand sanitizer in their carry-on bags up to 12 ounces in size. For more details on airline safety, visit the TSA website.