Flying in the age of the Pandemic | Daily News


Flying in the age of the Pandemic

In recent years, airlines have been cramming more seats onto planes and squishing passengers ever closer to one another.

The entire airport experience isn’t much better, with overcrowded eateries and bookshops, as well as tightly packed lines of people queuing up at check-in counters, at security checkpoints and on the jet bridge for boarding.

But that’s not the case anymore.

“Airports are empty. The flights are empty,” said physician Frank Garcini after stepping off a recent flight from Phoenix at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

“I was traveling on a small airplane with probably 40-something seats, and there were only six passengers on the flight,” he said.

“I think life as we know it has changed” because of the coronavirus, Garcini said, adding that airlines will need to adapt. “I anticipate that the standard operating procedures in the future will change because of our new reality.”

Few industries have been hit as hard by the coronavirus pandemic as the airlines. With the number of people flying having plummeted more than 90% since the beginning of March, U.S. airlines have slashed their flight schedules and parked half their fleets, more than 3,000 planes in all.

The few planes that are flying are almost empty, averaging just 17 passengers per domestic flight, according to the industry group Airlines for America. And now, to try to ensure the safety of the passengers they do have, airlines are making changes.

Most U.S. carriers are requiring passengers and crew members to wear masks or facial coverings in gate areas and on flights.

In the terminals, airports are taking other steps to protect passengers and employees, such as putting tape or markings on floors to help people remain at least 6 feet apart when waiting in line.

“We put up sneeze guards throughout the terminal between customers and employees [and] at the gate when you scan your boarding pass,” said Mike Hanna, vice president of operations for United Airlines at O’Hare airport.

“We’re encouraging customers to scan their own boarding pass as well, so we’re not handling their documents. We’re also limiting the number of people going down a jet bridge at one time so they can also separate and socially distance themselves,” Hanna explained.

On a recent day at O’Hare, passengers arrive free of traffic jams, with none of the usual chaos at the curb. Inside the terminal, there are no mobs of people dragging roller bags while they try to figure out which interminable line to get into. It’s just a sea of empty check-in kiosks and counters, with a dozen or so airline and airport employees milling about, with no passengers to assist.


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