The Future of Flying

By Alicia Price

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The uncertainty of what the “new normal” will be comes with apprehension and plenty of questions, especially in regards to travel. Since the documented start of the COVID-19 pandemic, airline traffic has significantly decreased with projections of continued stagnation carrying through 2020. As countries and states begin to reopen, there’s no doubt that the urge to travel will reemerge as well. But, how does that translate into our current situation? Flying, which once was a seemingly enjoyable experience for most, now feels like navigating through an extreme sport obstacle course with no sight of the finish line. Which begs the question, what is the future of flying?

Refunds, Costs & The Like…
In response to an overwhelming increase in complaints from ticketed passengers, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an enforcement notice clarifying air carrier refund requirements due to COVID-19. Per the U.S. DoT, “U.S. and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers for flights to, within or from the United States when the carrier cancels the passenger’s scheduled flight or makes a significant schedule change and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.” In other words, if the airline cancels your flight due to reasons related to COVID-19, they are required to give you a full refund for your ticket price and optional fees (e.g. baggage, seating assignment, etc.). Airlines may outright offer an airline credit, so make sure that you contact their designated customer support department and request a refund. Now, it is important to note, this enforcement does not apply if you, the passenger, cancel your travel plans. In those instances, waived fees and credits for nonrefundable flights have been implemented to retain customers. These policies, however, are not required by law.

As we transition into the termination of stay at home orders, airlines will use low prices and waived fees to bait travelers into resuming flying to desired tourist destinations. While it is difficult to determine when vacationing will regain some level of normalcy, current flight prices are very inviting as airlines compete for business. However, it is anticipated that prices will increase as carriers make necessary safety changes which may entail fewer routes or fewer in-flight passengers.


Safety
As of the beginning of May 2020, many airlines have aligned their policies with that of the states’ safety orders. United & Spirit are just two of the major airlines that now require passengers to wear face coverings throughout the flight’s duration. Delta has revamped its boarding process to board the back of the plane first. American has limited in-flight food/beverage services and restricted access to certain seats. Emirates administers rapid blood tests prior to departure to and from Dubai. Many of the current changes are widespread across all of the major airlines and will more than likely develop into permanent policies.

Discussion of future changes have been centered around upgrades to airport screening and in-flight seating. Airports are toying with the idea of adding pre-health screenings at checkpoints or offsite, as preferred. While an imperfect measure, experts believe this would prevent the easily identifiable symptomatic passengers from flying. In-flight seating may have a social distancing make-up as well. As a short term fix, access to the dreaded middle seats has been blocked off. Long term solutions, however, could include shoulder up guard shields installed on both sides of seats or even a reverse middle seat as proposed by Avio Interiors, an Italian design firm. Carriers have made safety a top priority as we continue to work our way through these unprecedented times.

Identification
With many of the DMVs closed due to this pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security is allowing TSA to accept some expired driver’s licenses as acceptable identification at checkpoints. TSA plans to continue this policy until 60 days after the COVID-19 national emergency is lifted. Also, the October 2020 deadline which required travelers to have a REAL ID for flying has been pushed to October 1st, 2021. (Additional information about the REAL ID Act is available at DHS.gov). Unexpired passports are still required for any international travel that has not been restricted. However, passport operations have been limited within the U.S. so significant processing delays are expected. Globally, there are additional talks of “Immunity Passports” which currently pose ethical and legal issues. This is a topic to keep an eye on.

So what is the future of flying? This answer may be ever-changing. In the meantime, adhere to your state’s guidelines and stay safe.