Flying Anytime Soon?

Airpots and Social Distancing. What should you expect when you travel?

Over the Fourth of July holiday, many people, including some of the employees in our office, stepped on a plane for the first time since COVID-19 shut down the country. What they found was an experience starkly different compared to pre-pandemic travel. Masks were mandated and janitors roamed the airport sanitizing any and all surfaces. Although airports appeared to be taking their sanitation seriously, their safety measures in some areas appeared to be lacking. If you or any loved one are planning to travel by air in the coming months, there are a few things you should know in the current situation.

Keep Sanitizer Handy

One of the more surprising observations we made was the lack of hand sanitizing stations located around the airports. Given that airports are high traffic areas, you would expect there to be hand sanitizer readily available. However, as far as we could tell, there was little to no hand sanitizer readily available. Additionally, airports are still enforcing the 3 oz. limit for bottles of liquid. So make sure you plan ahead if you want to bring your own hand sanitizer as your only option is to find the travel-size containers, which are sold out in most stores and very hard to find in stock even online.

Social Distancing at the Airport

While there were announcements on the PA systems reminding people to stay 6 feet away from one another, a vast majority of people in the airport paid little mind to social distancing – almost as if the droning of the PA announcer was simply white noise. Additionally, there was no enforcement of social distancing in any meaningful way that we could see to counteract this disregard of safety guidelines.

One clear example of this was evident immediately upon arriving at the flight boarding gate where all chairs were available to sit at. While many passengers seemed unfazed by the close proximity to one another, there was a clear sense of discomfort evident in others. Due to the lack of enforcement of social distancing, these passengers’ only option was to await their flight away from the congestion, often at a separate, vacant gate further along the terminal.

Social Distancing Onboard

Unfortunately, the lack of social distancing enforcement did not end upon boarding the plane. One employee that recently flew on an American Airlines flight noted that almost every seat was taken aboard their plane. Other airlines, including United and Southwest, keep the middle seat open between coach passengers.  Even assuming that most passengers kept their masks on the entire flight, with all seats filled the tight confines do not allow passengers to social distance appropriately. It appears that this is not an isolated incident. It is alarming that social distancing is being enforced strictly in small businesses, and as days go by, even in more open spaces, but appears to be given little to no importance on airplanes, where you find hundreds of people cramped in confined spaces.

We are not highlighting our observations to deter you from travelling. Rather, we want to inform you of the potential risks you are taking by travelling so you can be better prepared. Knowing the risks, what precautions should you be taking when travelling?

  • Bring your own snacks and drinks to avoid crowded food courts
  • Sit in less crowded areas away from the boarding gate until it is time to board
  • Check in ahead of time and get a virtual boarding pass on your phone
  • Bring a mask or appropriate face covering to protect yourself on the plane
  • Clean your tray table and surrounding personal area upon being seated with a disinfectant wipe.

By following the above tips, you lessen the risk of exposure to COVID-19 while travelling. However, no matter what preventative measures you take, there are still inherent risks in travelling. In the case that you or a loved one contract COVID-19 after travelling, you may have a claim against the airport or airline. As you inevitably venture back into airports, keep your eyes open for potential risks and stay vigilant.


About the Author

Garrett Keane is an Associate at Mase Mebane. He has experience handling numerous cases in state and federal court and has arbitrated several cases across the state of Florida.

Garrett handles a wide range of matters including: automobile accidents, boating accidents, slip and falls, product liability, liquor liability, sexual assaults, negligent security, dog bites, jet ski injuries, motorcycle accidents, dive injuries, and injuries on cruise ships.