Flying High? Airlines adjust in the COVID-19 era

Traveling by plane will likely get tougher for golfers.
Social distancing is difficult while waiting in lines at airports.

Am I ready to fly again?

That's the question millions of Americans must answer for themselves heading into the peak summer travel season following two months of shelter-in-place lock downs.

Air travel has been the hardest industry hit (other than restaurants) during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite touting new safety measures and cleaning guidelines, airlines have been mostly unsuccessful so far trying to convince customers that it is safe to fly again. The New York Times details the "bleak" outlook for airlines, near and long term. A trade group, Airlines for America, reports that air travel was down 98 percent in April from one year ago, with flights averaging 12 people per plane, according to The Atlantic.

When you do decide to jump on a plane, the whole experience will likely look and feel nothing like the recent past. Golfers who dream of chasing down five-star courses or traveling to faraway resorts will face more obstacles to get there.

"Going through an airport, the whole travel experience, will be as enjoyable as open-heart surgery," Paul Griffiths, chief executive officer of Dubai Airports, told Bloomberg.com.

The airport experience

In the short term, flying will likely feel more exhausting and stressful for travelers. Beyond the usual hassles of security checkpoints and lost luggage, you've got a whole new set of issues to deal with at airports. Maintaining proper social distancing six feet apart won't be easy in security lines, boarding the plane and ordering at a fast-food restaurant in the terminal. In Dubai, airport staff wear disposable gowns and face shields much like front-line workers.

The Bloomberg article points out that every other seat inside the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris has been blocked off to promote social distancing. At the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, the check-in counters, baggage-claim areas and boarding-pass and security checkpoints have all been redesigned for less human interaction. The Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has closed every other check-in desk and departure gate to mitigate mingling, and each flight gets its own belt at baggage claim.

Airlines are trying their best to mitigate people's fears.

Southwest Airlines has revealed the Southwest Promise, which includes cleaning aircraft between flights, limiting passengers and changing boarding to promote social distancing. Delta is making space for safer travel through June 30 by blocking middle seats, limiting the number of people to 60 percent capacity on each flight, boarding by rows from back to front and pausing automatic Medallion complimentary seat upgrades to process them at the gate. Delta requires passengers to bring their own masks and wear them as soon as they reach the check-in counter, while the staff and plane crew wear theirs.

Even with extra cleaning procedures already in place, if you're really adamant about safety, imagine trying to wipe everything down before you touch it ... your luggage upon arrival, airline seats, seats in the waiting area, elevator buttons and hand rails on shuttles.

Are airline ticket prices on the way up?

Currently, flying is fairly cheap and airlines are being more flexible and friendlier than ever to attract business. My wife recently booked tickets for trips to my daughter's lacrosse tournaments in Bend, Ore., and Denver, both in July. Although it's likely the tournaments will be canceled, the prices were the most affordable we've ever seen ... $118 direct flights on United for tickets usually costing $250+. The generous cancellation and refund policies made the purchase worth it. We also bought tickets to visit family in Washington state over Christmas. Delta's prices were half what they normally cost - $136 per person from San Jose to Seattle - and the dates could be changed free of charge from one year of purchase.

Industry experts warn, though, that the cost to fly will eventually jump as struggling airlines merge and cut routes, leaving less competition. Studying trends following 9/11 and the 2009 recession, the Dollar Flight Club predicts a 35% decrease in airfare prices in 2021, but a 27% increase through 2025, assuming that air travel resumes by May 31, according to Travelpulse.com.

American Airlines is the first to raise baggage fees. The $60 fee for a first checked bag on a transcontinental flight will jump to $75, according to this report. Considering some airlines are losing $30 million a day, more increases are likely.

Baggage fees could be rising.

More changes to the in-flight experience

More change could be coming, but it's all just speculation at this point. This nbcnews.com article noted that alcohol might no longer be served in-flight. Blankets and pillows might be a thing of the past, at least in the short term. Packing your own snacks and meals might be wise.

Paper menus and inflight magazines will also be a thing of the past, and even the inflight meals will look very different. Gone are the chicken or pasta choices: American Airlines said it will not provide alcohol or meals except on international routes. United will offer prepackaged and sealed drinks, and Delta encourages customers to bring their own food in order to "reduce physical touch points between customers and employees." First-class passengers will receive a packaged meal containing items such as a sandwich and fruit plate.
NBCNews.com

Forbes.com offers a "Touchless but Terrifying" look at the future of air travel, where cloud-based apps could play a bigger role in less human interaction. The articles touches on the worst fears of every traveler: International borders closing and flights being canceled without notice.

There have been reports of implementing health screenings in the form of temperature checks, either as passengers enter the airport or leave it, or both. Frontier Airlines has led the charge among U.S. carriers, requiring passengers to fill out a health form certifying neither they nor family members have shown COVID-19 symptoms 14 days prior to the flight. Passengers with a fever are not allowed to travel.

The bottom line is if you book a ticket in the near future, make sure you pack hand sanitizer - along with a bigger bottle of patience - in your carry-on, too.

Have you flown, or do you think it is safe to fly in the near future? Let us know in the comments below.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
23 Comments
Commented on

Flying a week from now. I have no real fear and will welcome the extra leg space. The loss of certain routes has been the biggest negative so far.

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Commented on

I don't feel it is safe to fly yet. Obviously, flying is riskier than driving but much quicker so you have to make a decision. I'm in the high risk group, healthy but age 72. It's a tough decision since you are so dependent on other people's actions and shifting airline policies.

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Commented on

I don't think it's any riskier or safer than it was before the pandemic. Back when the Hong Kong flu was around and killed about the same amount of people, there were no changes to anything. No mask, no distancing and no restrictions. What's the difference now?

Commented on

I think it's safe to fly only if every passenger has the proof of negative covid 19 test paperwork within the last 21 days. Every passengers should make their time to have themselves tested if they are going to be traveling to protect everyone, no excuses.
Airlines should also do their part in cleaning and disinfecting every in between passengers flights to make sure that no virus left behind. All air craft staff should be also tested in Covid 19, no exceptions.

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Commented on

I have not flown, and I don't think it is safe to fly in the near future.
Too many unknowns still exist. Too many restrictions in place to make me feel safe.
I love the fact the economy is reopening, and I intend to do as much as possible to help it recover.
But the fact remains, that covid-19 has no vaccine at this time. And to my knowledge, no drug universally used to treat it.

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Commented on

Whatever the airlines do, I can feel they are probably fair to begin with. What I feel very unfair are some airport charges...! Especially bad in this part of the world is Melbourne Airport. They run the airports like expansive supermarkets, and they suck drivers dry for the carparks facility. I would be happy to see them go really broke in this coronavirus driven recession...!
Hooray.!!

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Commented on

We are currently in France. Traveling is hard enough right now; but, golf clubs are being checked for agricultural contamination and bags must be handled only by handles; so, if you can’t pick up a travel bag by its handle it is not allowed. Weight restrictions are being applied for the first time, as well!

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Commented on

A big problem for the airlines is that they have treated everyone like crap for so long, no one has any sympathy for them. We know that they have been hit hard by the virus situation, but they have been slow to change their policies on refunds and ticket changes, and while they are more accommodating now, their rules are still complicated and tricky, and we know that once things improve even slightly, the airlines will quickly become the a--holes they have always been.

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Commented on

John, great comment the airlines have been treating people like a..holes for years. Thanks, Bill

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Commented on

I’ve been a business traveler for over 40 years. I definitely won’t be flying for the foreseeable future.

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Commented on

What is this nonsense about middle seats left open on air travel to leave 6 feet of space between pasdengers??
What about the seats I the row in front of behind you wherever one sits.
Tell me about the air you breathe in whatever area you are sitting since ALL air is reformulated within the plane for as long as the plane is in the air, and please tell me that the air is filtered to remove any virus, flu or corona or other when experience dictates that the easiest way to catch the same is on any aircraft with reformulated so-called air ?

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Flying High? Airlines adjust in the COVID-19 era