As the holiday travel season approaches, travel experts and consumer advocates are repeating their calls for Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to protect travelers by adopting mandatory COVID-19 safety standards for airlines and airports. While the DOT issued safety guidance over the summer for air travel, these recommendations are strictly voluntary and compliance has varied widely across the industry.
Millions of Americans will be flying over the holidays at a time when the coronavirus outbreak is raging out of control. Airlines shouldn’t be allowed to pick and choose which safety policies to adopt to protect passengers, especially during a once-in-a-century, global pandemic. Mandatory health and safety rules are needed to ensure that every airline, airport and passenger does their part to stop the spread of this deadly virus.
Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued new recommendations for travelers flying during the holidays, advising passengers to wear a mask, practice good sanitation and to do their best to maintain social distance. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended against traveling by plane, bus or train during the holidays because of the challenge of staying six feet apart from others.
Staying safe while flying can be difficult because of the inconsistent mix of health and safety policies in place at more than 450 U.S. airports and ten different domestic scheduled carriers. Since the DOT has left it up to the airlines to decide which safety precautions to adopt, travelers have no guarantee that their airline will follow the same policies that were in place when they first made their reservation.
For example, while Delta has pledged to leave middle seats open on flights, most domestic airlines are booking passengers in every seat, including Southwest, which recently reversed its policy and will start assigning middle seats beginning December 1. Travelers who have flown during the pandemic have complained to CR that they felt unsafe on overcrowded flights and that some airlines are not enforcing mask requirements consistently.
CR has called on Secretary Chao to work with other key administration officials to establish requirements to protect airline travelers from the transmission of the COVID-19, including:
- How and whether to screen passengers and employees for COVID-19 before travel
- Appropriate social distancing in airports and airplane cabins
- Use of face masks and other personal protective equipment
- Appropriate airport and airline cleaning procedures
- Effectiveness of airplane cabin air circulation systems