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If You Have to Travel by Air, Here’s How to Get the Safest Flight for Your Money 

Hayden Field  |  June 30, 2020

A complete rundown of all major airlines’ cancellations and booking policies, mask policies, boarding processes and food service guidelines.

Planes, trains and automobiles: In the age of COVID-19, no form of transportation is without risk, but air travel is especially concerning for many Americans. There’s the potential rideshare to the airport, standing in a long security line, and spending a good chunk of time grouped and waiting by the gate. And that’s all before you even step foot on the plane. 

Airlines worldwide are expected to suffer $314 billion in revenue losses due to COVID-19; on April 7, air travel was down 95 percent compared to the same day in 2019. And since thousands of new cases are still being reported every day across the country, it makes sense that more than half of Americans don’t expect to go on vacation until 2021 or later, according to data from The Harris Poll. 

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Experts agree: The most effective protections against COVID-19 are staying home, wearing a mask, frequent hand-washing, avoiding touching the face and strict social distancing measures. But if you can’t avoid booking a flight during this time — for example, to care for a loved one (after quarantining) or to move out after a lease expires — then it’s important to have a clear idea of each airline’s safety measures. 

We’ve rounded up the specifics of each major U.S. airline’s COVID-19 policy — everything from whether middle seats are blocked from sale, to cancellation and change fee waivers (for many airlines, fee waivers end June 30). Here’s everything you should know. 

Delta Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: Delta is waiving change fees for flights booked by June 30. 

Mask policy: Face coverings are required for all employees and travelers starting at check-in. 

Middle seats and plane capacity: Delta will extend its limited booking capacity through September 30th, which includes a 60% seating cap in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select. 

Boarding: Delta has implemented social distancing procedures in the boarding process. 

Food service: The airline encourages passengers to pack their own food. 

American Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: American Airlines is waiving change fees for flights booked by June 30 — as long as the travel date is on or before September 30. It’s the same for cancellations, which earn you a future travel credit. Whether you rebook or cancel for future credit, the new flight date must be on or before December 31. 

Mask policy: Unless someone is eating or drinking, the airline requires face coverings at all times for everyone except “very young children” or those with certain medical conditions. 

Middle seats and plane capacity: This week, the airline will return to booking flights to full capacity. 

Boarding: American hasn’t released official information on its updates page about changes to the boarding process. 

Food service: American is limiting food and drink service in the main cabin and encourages travelers to bring their own snacks and beverages. 

Southwest Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: Southwest doesn’t charge fees for changes or cancellations, so it’s not part of the airline’s COVID-19 policy. Keep in mind that if you book nonrefundable (Southwest’s “Wanna Get Away” tickets), then you’ll have to cancel the trip at least 10 minutes before the flight in order to receive future credit. 

Mask policy: Face coverings are required for guests and customer-facing employees. 

Middle seats and plane capacity: Middle seats are blocked from purchase through September 30. 

Boarding: Customers will now board in groups of 10. 

Food service: Service is suspended for flights under 250 miles. 

JetBlue 

Cancellations and flexible booking: JetBlue is waiving change and cancellation fees for flights booked before June 30. 

Mask policy: Face coverings are required for all JetBlue crewmembers and passengers. 

Middle seats and plane capacity: Through July 31, middle seats will be blocked from purchase on larger planes (for smaller planes, aisle seats). JetBlue is also designating “buffer zones” around the flight crew’s jump seats. 

Boarding: The majority of passengers will board so that the back of the plane is filled first. 

Food service: JetBlue has limited its food and beverage service; main cabin (or Core) passengers will receive a “pre-sealed snack and beverage bag,” and premium customers (JetBlue’s Mint offering) will receive disposable beverage cups and pre-packaged meals.  

Alaska Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: Alaska Airlines is waiving change and cancellation fees for flights purchased before June 30. 

Mask policy: Alaska Airlines requires all employees, as well as travelers ages 12 and over, to wear masks (those with certain medical conditions and disabilities are exempt). 

Middle seats and plane capacity: The airline has blocked selection of middle seats and plans not to book flights to full capacity (though in some occasions, such as accommodating guests from a canceled flight, the airline notes that extra space isn’t guaranteed). 

Boarding: Travelers will board in smaller groups, starting from the back of the aircraft. 

Food service: The airline has reduced the service and encourages passengers to bring their own food and water. 

Frontier Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: For flights booked between March 10 and April 15, Frontier is offering a one-time change with no fee, but the new flight must be completed by September 12 (more terms here). 

Mask policy: Face coverings are required for employees and passengers. 

Middle seats and plane capacity: Some middle seats are blocked, but not all. Check individual flights for specifics. 

Boarding: Frontier will load passengers from the back of the aircraft first to minimize contact between rows and passersby. 

Food service: The airline doesn’t offer complimentary food or beverage service. 

Spirit Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: Passengers who book a flight by June 30 can change or cancel a flight without fees, though for the latter, guests will receive a Spirit Airlines travel credit rather than a refund. 

Mask policy: The airline requires face coverings for all travelers except children ages two and under (as well as children unable to keep their faces covered).  

Middle seats and plane capacity: Spirit Airlines is reportedly not blocking the purchase of middle seats. Regarding plane capacity, the airline’s information center said the following: “We will also continue to support social distancing measures where possible, but please note that some flights may be more full than others.” 

Boarding: Travelers can wait to board last if they’d like, but Spirit hasn’t reported any other changes to the boarding process. 

Food service: Spirit doesn’t offer complimentary in-flight food or beverages. 

United Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: United is waiving change fees for flights booked before June 30; if you book a flight after that date, it’s likely United will charge a change fee. 

Mask policy: All travelers must wear a face covering during the flight unless they’re eating or drinking, though “certain travelers” are exempt. 

Middle seats and plane capacity: The airline plans to adjust seat selection to leave empty seats between travelers when possible; for fuller flights, passengers can reportedly change the flight for free or choose a travel credit instead. 

Boarding: United plans to board people in smaller groups, the majority of travelers entering from the back of the plane. 

Food service: For domestic flights with durations of two hours and 20 minutes or more, United will distribute snack bags to every passenger that each include one sanitizing wipe, bottled water, stroopwafel and pretzels. 

Allegiant Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: Passengers can change any flight to other Allegiant flights for free, according to the airline’s COVID-19 policy. If you cancel your flight, you’ll receive full credit in the form of an Allegiant travel voucher good for two years from the date of your first reservation. 

Mask policy: Allegiant recently began requiring all passengers to wear face coverings during all travel phases. Over the coming weeks, Allegiant plans to begin providing each passenger with a disposable face mask, gloves and two sanitizing wipes. 

Middle seats and plane capacity: Allegiant will reportedly not block seats from purchase or take specific measures to limit capacity, though according to the airline, “customers are encouraged not to book the middle seat.” 

Boarding: The airline encourages social distancing during boarding. 

Food service: Food and beverages offered in-flight are pre-packaged and sealed. 

Hawaiian Airlines 

Cancellations and flexible booking: For tickets purchased before March 1 with travel dates between March 1 and September 30, there will be no change fees for rebooking as long as the new flight is on or before May 31, 2022. For tickets purchased before June 30, Hawaiian will waive fees for changes made within two years of the original booking. 

Mask policy: Hawaiian Airlines requires travelers to wear a mask or face covering, although young children or guests with a medical condition or disability preventing the use of a mask are exempt. 

Middle seats and plane capacity: Middle seats are currently blocked from purchase. 

Boarding: Passengers seated in the main cabin will board from the back of the airplane in separate groups, and middle seats are currently blocked from purchase. 

Food service: The airline encourages guests to bring their own food aboard, though canned and bottled beverages are available. 

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