Face masks

Airports welcome back travelers with new rules, protocols and promises

Airports are joining airlines in ramping up service and welcoming passengers back to terminals that have been all but empty for months due to a record coronavirus-induced drop in air traffic.

And, like the airlines, most every airport is going all out to proclaim extreme vigilance in keeping facilities clean and travelers safe.

Mask required for all passengers entering the terminals?  Yes at airports in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C. and in many other cities. Airports in some other cities, such as Charlotte, recommend face masks be worn in the terminals although most airlines now require passengers wear masks from the curb to – and onto – the planes.

Don’t have a mask? Airports will have them for you.

The Federal Government is in the process of distributing more than 86 million masks to airports. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) now has a stash of 4.7 million masks for distribution. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) has 2.5 million masks ready to hand out.

Floor decals marking six-foot lengths to encourage social distancing? Check.

Harrisburg International Airport (MDT), not far from Hershey, PA, reminds travelers to stay 6 feet or 72 KISSES chocolates away from other passengers.

Upgraded and robust cleaning protocols? Check. Airport employees – and in some cases, robots, such as the autonomous robotic floor scrubbers at Pittsburgh International Airport – are wiping, washing, spraying and sanitizing at every turn.

Oodles of hand sanitizing stations? Check. Some airports have added hundreds of sanitizer dispensers and, like Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), now note the dispenser locations on maps and apps.

Plexiglass barriers at check-in counters, security checkpoints and gates? Check.

Step stools to make it easy for kids (and short people) to wash their hands in airport bathrooms? Check. More than 200 airports (and counting) now have Step ‘n Wash devices in the restrooms.

Shops and vending machines selling personal protective equipment? Check.

Many airport shops now stock PPE supplies and PPE vending machines are installed at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and at Denver International Airport. Hudson just announced plans to roll out PPE vending machines at 27 major airports in North America.

Branded plans and promises

Like the airlines, airports are also rolling out branded plans to underscore their commitment to cleanliness and passenger safety. 

The Houston Airport’s “FlySafeHouston” program includes adding facial comparison technology at 15 gates by October and UV disinfecting cuffs for escalators, among other measures.  

At Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport it’s the “MSY Travel Ready” plan. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has a Travel Safely at LAX plan. Jacksonville International Airport has its JAX Airport Cares program. And at Miami International Airport, it’s #MIACares.”

In many cases airport COVID-19 response plans highlight new technology and bonus efforts being made. 

For example, the “Traveler Confidence Plan” at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport notes that the main escalators have “newly installed UV-C handrail sterilization modules” and that the airport has new high-capacity floor cleaners.

The #ReadySetROC initiative at the Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) in New York promises that enhanced cleaning includes a regular misting of anti-bacterial cleaner/solution on seating and surfaces.

At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which installed the country’s first vending machine filled with personal protective equipment (PPE), the campaign is dubbed “LAS All In,” and includes Vegas-themed slogans such as “Don’t roll the dice: Stay 6 ft apart!” and “We’re doubling down on cleaning and sanitizing.”

TSA has new safety protocols too

This summer travelers will also encounter some new protocols at most every airport security checkpoint in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Transportation Security Administration’s updated security procedures now allow travelers to carry up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer in carry-on bags, but require those containers to be screened separately. Passengers may also wear their face masks during the TSA screening process but should be ready to lower or adjust the mask for an identity check.

To avoid having TSA officers touch passengers’ paper boarding passes or mobile devices, TSA will ask all passengers to scan their own boarding pass and hold it up for a TSA officer to do a visual check.

And TSA now asks that any food packed in carry-on bags to removed and scanned separately. So to avoid having your food contaminated in a bin or on the belt, be sure to pack it inside a clear plastic bag.

Wear a face mask at the airport & on the plane. Or else!

Most every airline now requires passengers to wear face coverings in airports and on airplanes.

But now the failure to do so may result in denied boarding or a ban on future travel.

On Monday, the airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) announced that for the duration of the COVID-19 health crisis its member airlines, including Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest and United, are stepping up enforcement of face coverings.

The airlines will also now impose “substantial consequences for those who do not comply with the rules.”

Each carrier will be determining its own set of consequences for passengers who do not comply. But those policies may now include being banned from flying on the airline.

United Airlines says in a statement that starting June 18 and for at least the next 60 days, “any passenger that does not comply when onboard a United flight will be placed on an internal travel restriction list. Customers on this list will lose their travel privileges on United for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review.”

United has been requiring passengers to wear masks on board aircraft since May 4 and most passengers have been complying.

But not all. So the new rule “is an unmistakable signal that we’re prepared to take serious steps, if necessary, to protect our customers and crew,” said United’s Chief Customer Officer, Toby Enqvist in the airline’s statement.

United says flight attendants will “proactively inform” customers not wearing face mask of the rules and offer masks, if needed.

Then:

If the customer continues to be non-compliant, flight attendants will do their best to de-escalate the situation, again inform the customer of United’s policy, and provide the passenger with an In-Flight Mask policy reminder card.”

If a customer continues to not comply, the flight attendant will file a report of the incident, which will initiate a formal review process.”

Any final decision or actions regarding a customer’s future flight benefits will not occur onboard but instead take place after the flight has reached its destination and the security team has investigated the incident.

American Airlines says its updated policies will go into effect June 16. Customers who do not comply with the requirement to wear face coverings at the gate will be denied boarding.

“American may also deny future travel for customers who refuse to wear a face covering,” the airline said in a statement.

Other airlines will likely spell out the consequences for not complying with the face mask requirement in the next day or two.

Airport amenity of the week

It is definitely a sign of the times. And the airport amenity of the week.

To help passengers and employees comply with the face mask covering requirement at Denver International (DEN), the airport now has two vending machines that sell face masks as well as sanitizing wipes.

The vending machines are stocked with:

  • Two-pack disposable mask with one gel sanitizer packet and two single-use alcohol towelettes: $6/package
  • Two-pack KN95 mask with one gel sanitizer packet and two single-use alcohol towelettes: $12/package
  • 10-pack full-sheet sanitizing wipes: $4.25/package

Travelers will find the vending machines at the North end of Level 6 near the restrooms on the west side and on the South end of Level 5 around the corner from Boulder Beer Tap House on the west side.

Several DEN airport shops are now selling face masks and other hygiene items as well.

DEN isn’t the first airport in the United States to install a vending machine stocked with masks and sanitizing items.

That title goes to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (LAS), which installed two such machines in mid-May.

No doubt these machines will soon pop up at airport everywhere.

Stuck at the Airport: Music, masks and lots of lights

Very few people are flying right now, but airlines and airports are still in the news.

Masks – on the plane and in the airports

The list of airlines requiring crew members and passengers to wear masks, and the number of airports requiring anyone passing through to cover their mouth and nose keeps growing.

United Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, JetBlue and Lufthansa are among the airlines already doing it. More will do the same.

Many of these airlines are also requiring that passengers wear masks during check-in, boarding and deplaning. And because an increasing number of airports are and soon will be requiring anyone in their terminals to wear masks, it’s a fair bet that wearing masks in airports is already the ‘new normal.’

Virtual music festival hosted by 23 airports

On May 6, starting at 5 p.m. CST, 23 airports across North America will be hosting the JetStream Music Festival, an online celebration of local music.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, located in the “Live Music Capital of the World” will be the official host airport, but the 23 participating airports will each stream the festival on their respective Facebook Live pages and each will feature a local musician from their city. Viewers will be able to tip the performers during each set.

Participating airports include:

  • Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – host 
  • Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ)
  • Asheville Regional Airport (AVL)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL)
  • Evansville Regional Airport (EVV)
  • Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
  • Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT)
  • Jacksonville International Airport (JAX)
  • John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH)
  • John Wayne Airport (SNA)
  • Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE)
  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)
  • Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE)
  • Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
  • Portland International Airport (PDX)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV)
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ)
  • Yeager Airport (CRW)

Airports lighting up

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Dulles International Airport, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and many other airports are lighting up their terminals in different colors to show their support for health care workers, first responders, front line workers, hospitality workers and airport and airline employees who are helping people get where they need to go.

Here’s SFO’s color-code and its upcoming lighting schedule.

  • First responders: red, white and blue (most Thursdays)
  • Front-line workers: gold (most Tuesdays)
  • Health care workers: blue (most Wednesdays)
  • Hospitality workers: purple (most Mondays)

Face masks required at more airports in the US & Canada

In trying to keep people safe during the current COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of government entities around the country now require people to wear non-medical masks or face coverings when out in public.

In many cities, those rules now apply to airports.

Two examples: San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS).

Starting this week, Canada’s Minister of Transport is requiring all air passengers traveling to, through or from Canada to have a non-medical mask or face covering to cover their mouth and nose.

“Aviation passengers on all flights departing or arriving at Canadian airports will also be required to demonstrate they have the necessary non-medical mask or face covering during the boarding process otherwise they will not be allowed to continue on their journey,” Transport Canada said in a statement.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR) jumped right on this rule – and had some fun with it (maybe too much fun?) in a Twitter thread.