Which airlines are taking the most precautions against COVID-19?

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Don’t collapse on us yet, travel industry — we’re returning to you as quickly as we can!

It’s understandable if you are hesitant to return to the sky. Statistics reported on the news aren’t super encouraging. If you do have upcoming plans, or if you may need to travel for an emergency, it’s worth mentioning which airlines are going above and beyond to try and keep you safe to fly amid the coronavirus.

There are four airlines that stand out from the rest in various aspects of the commute, namely:

  • Capacity control
  • Mask requirements
  • Cleaning procedures
  • Boarding process

We’ll tell you which are the best, and explain the steps they’re taking to stave off COVID-19.

(Photo by Pradpriew/Shutterstock)

Which airlines offer the highest-quality response to COVID-19?

Here’s a quick rundown of current procedures in place for the biggest U.S. airlines. You can read our post discussing whether it’s safe to fly again for more details.

AirlinePrecautions taken against COVID-19
American AirlinesTravelers are asked at check-in to confirm they have been free of COVID-19 symptoms for the past 14 days.

Face coverings (mask or any secured cloth covering your nose and mouth) required while flying, except when eating or drinking. Very young children or those a condition preventing them from wearing one are exempt.
UnitedFace coverings required during the entire flight, except when eating or drinking. Small children and travelers with disabilities or certain medical conditions are exempt.

New boarding procedure, back to front.
DeltaFace coverings required during the entire flight, except when eating or drinking.

Middle seats have been blocked through September 30.

Each customer is queued to debark, ensuring better social distancing practices.

Those refusing to wear masks will require an in-airport test before boarding
SouthwestFace coverings required "at the airport and while traveling."

Face covering required to board. Boarding in groups of 10.

Middle seats blocked October (but those traveling together can sit beside one another).
Alaska AirlinesFace coverings required "when social distancing cannot be maintained," including on aircraft, except when eating or drinking. Not required for travelers aged 11 under, or for those with a medical condition preventing them from wearing a mask.

Select seats blocked through Sep 30, 2020.

New boarding procedure, back to front.
JetBlueFace coverings required during the entire flight, with the exception of "[y]oung children who are not able to maintain a face covering."
Regular temperature check for crew members interacting with customers.

Middle seats blocked on larger aircraft, and many aisle seats blocked on smaller aircraft.

New boarding procedure, back to front.

Inflight entertainment can now be controlled by personal mobile devices as a remote (no need to touch the screen).
FrontierFace coverings required during the flight.

Wash hands or sanitize before your flight.

All passengers will undergo a non-invasive temperature screening at the gate via a touchless thermometer. Temperatures of 100.4 or above will not be allowed to board.

New boarding process, from back to front.
SpiritFace coverings required during the entire flight, with the exception of children ages 2 and below, and children who cannot maintain a face covering.
AllegiantFace coverings required during the entire flight, except those with medical conditions preventing it. You must provide physician documentation of your medical condition to the gate agent at least one hour before takeoff.

Capacity controls

Social distancing on a plane is something airlines handle in dramatically different ways. While some carriers sell out their flights as they scramble to recover from the past several months of financial ruin, others are a bit more cautious, blocking out middle seats or restricting their flight capacities.

We talked to several medical experts on the topic of social distancing on a plane (spoiler alert, it’s almost certainly impossible to abide by CDC recommendations in the fuselage). However, any extra room between you and a sick person will never hurt. If you want to buy from airlines that are taking the biggest steps to social distance on a plane, you’ve got several to choose from.

Top three airlines for onboard social distancing:

  • JetBlue – Blocking middle seats — also, the airline possesses the most spacious domestic cabins available, making it the ever-so-slightest bit better for social distancing (through September 8)
  • Delta – Blocking middle seats (through September 30)
  • Southwest – Limits the capacity of each flight. Southwest doesn’t assign seats, so travelers can independently pick the most socially distanced seats for themselves once aboard. Expect to have an empty seat between you and your closest seatmate (through October)
  • Alaska Airlines — limiting the number of seats sold and blocking middle seats (through September 30)

Mask requirements

This category is mostly a wash, as all airlines now require masks for passengers. However, the three big legacy airlines are beginning to enforce their policies with the promise of harsher repercussions. In this respect, three airlines are probably the most likely to enforce onboard mask-wearing throughout the flight.

Top three airlines for mask requirements:

  • Delta – Banning passengers refusing to wear a mask from future flights until masks are no longer mandatory. If you claim to have a condition that prevents you from wearing a mask, Delta requires that you arrive early to undergo testing at the airport
  • United Airlines – Placing non-compliant travelers on an internal travel restriction list, where they will be reconsidered for future travel dates
  • American Airlines – May “deny future travel” for anyone who refuses to cover their face

Cleaning procedures

You’ve heard ad nauseam of the extra cleaning measures airlines are taking to minimize the chances of spreading the coronavirus. They’ve installed special top-notch HEPA air filters, and they spray every surface with a special disinfectant. What some airlines aren’t clear about, however, is how often they take these measures. If you’re worried about the frequency in which your seat has been cleaned, here are your clear winners.

Top three airlines for cleaning between flights:

  • Delta – Electrostatic spray with disinfectant before every flight, with extra attention to high-touch surfaces (tray tables, overhead bins, armrests, etc.). Delta will delay flights if they feel it hasn’t been sufficiently cleaned
  • JetBlue – Once-per-day deep cleaning of every plane with electrostatic spray, and giving special attention to frequently touched surfaces
  • United – Partnered with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic for enhanced cleaning on each plane. Frequently touched hard surfaces are wiped down throughout the day. Aircraft is taken out of rotation if a customer or employee exhibits symptoms of coronavirus

Boarding process

Viewed as one of the riskier aspects of the journey, the boarding process has also been overhauled by a number of carriers. Sitting at your seat while dozens of travelers pass within inches of your seat might not be an ideal situation. Even before you board the plane, you’re probably not jazzed by the idea of standing in a crowded line waiting for your ticket to be scanned. These airlines have taken the furthest measures to minimize human contact during boarding.

Top four airlines for boarding process:

  • Delta – Boarding back to front. Travelers remain seated until their rows are announced
  • United Airlines – Boarding back to front. Travelers remain seated until their rows are announced
  • Southwest – Boarding is completed in groups of 10. Seats are not assigned, so if you are one of the first onboard, you can head straight to the back of the plane
  • Alaska – “Boarding procedures have been updated so guests board by row numbers in smaller groups from the back to the front.”

Bottom line

The travel industry is adapting to new CDC guidelines, and they’re trying to keep their passengers as safe as possible — not to mention provide them peace of mind. If you’re a bit nervous about flying, the airlines that provide the experience that best combats the coronavirus are:

  • Delta
  • JetBlue
  • Southwest
  • Alaska

If you’re flying nowadays, let us know which airline and why. Are you willing to pay more for enhanced COVID-19 prevention?

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Joseph Hostetler is a full-time writer for Million Mile Secrets, covering miles and points tips and tricks, as well as helpful travel-related news and deals. He has also authored and edited for The Points Guy.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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