Which airlines are enforcing social distancing recommendations?

As states reopen across the country and Americans begin traveling again, it's important to know which precautions airlines are taking to keep passengers safe. 

Grace Brombach


Out of all the industries the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected, it has perhaps most noticeably impacted airlines. As the pandemic first arrived in the U.S., many Americans opted for cancelling their unnecessary travel, but as states have started reopening, some are beginning to fly again.

The recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still advise avoiding crowded public spaces in favor of social distancing. If you do plan to fly, keep in mind that airline travel includes not only the time spent in the air, but also security lines and screenings, waiting in the terminal or on the jet bridge, and using the restroom. In other words, there will likely be many situations during your trip where it will be difficult to control contact with other passengers. 

Remain skeptical if you’re picking your seat online, and it looks like the flight is mostly empty. This will rarely be the case on your travel day. In order to cut overhead costs, airlines are consolidating their nearly-empty flights, meaning you shouldn’t expect a socially-distanced trip. You might very well show up to a packed waiting area, an equally full plane, and in a worst-case scenario, find yourself seated in the middle seat next to two individuals not wearing a face covering.

You may be asking yourself: “Don’t airlines require masks? My grocery store requires everyone to wear a mask before shopping.” As things stand today, the federal government is letting individual airlines and airports decide which COVID-19 protections to enforce, including requiring masks for passengers and crew, blocking off middle seats, and cleaning before each flight. 

To help you make an informed decision should you choose to fly, here’s how the top airlines are addressing social-distancing protocols to keep you safe:




Again, the safest option is to avoid flying altogether. COVID-19 can easily spread between two people within 6 feet of each other, and some airlines are refusing to adequately reduce their flight capacity. Additionally, blocking middle seats and disinfecting surfaces won’t necessarily prevent the spread of COVID-19. But as you can see from the chart above, not all airline policies are created equal.

While traveling from Point A to Point B, always follow CDC guidelines, which recommend wearing a cloth face mask over both your nose and mouth and keeping it in place throughout your entire trip. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching any area of your face, and if you can’t access a bathroom, bring along hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. If available, you can also buy a travel-sized pack of disinfectant wipes to sanitize any surrounding surfaces. Finally, avoid crowding into the aisles, and leave appropriate distance between yourself and other exiting passengers.

Now that you know which steps airlines are taking to protect their passengers’ and crew members’ health, if you must make a necessary trip, you know which safety precautions are required. Finally, if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you may have to take some of these precautions into your own hands and advocate for yourself in an appropriate way. From requesting a seat change, to maintaining six feet of distance during the boarding process, there are still actions you can take to maintain your social distance.


Grace Brombach

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