Monday, July 6, 2020

A new age of travel

This blog is all about travel experiences, and if you’re like me, you can’t help wondering what that will look like in the near future—and beyond. Just as happened after 9/11, when the TSA was established and we all had to go through security check points and abide by new regulations, the COVID-19 pandemic will result in numerous changes to procedures, especially for air travel.

What will the airport look like?

First of all, check in online to minimize contact at the airport and lessen the time it takes to get through new procedures. While each airport will establish its own timeline for instituting changes, there are certain procedures that most are working now to incorporate.

Some airports may restrict entry to ticketed passengers only. Counter agents will likely be positioned behind a plastic or plexiglass shield, and they want to minimize contact with your possessions, including passport or ID.

Inside the airport, you will be required to wear a mask and to abide by social distancing guidelines. Floor markings for distance and arrows for traffic flow will help ease congestion. When travelers pass through checkpoints, they will see TSA agents in masks and gloves; in some airports, agents will be wearing clear plastic face shields.

Instead of handing your documentation or boarding pass to the TSA agent, passengers will just show it for verification, or they may be asked to scan their own boarding pass—whether paper or electronic.

You’ll want to be vigilant about not putting prohibited items in carryon luggage, so as not to delay the security process. Liquids, gels, or aerosols larger than 3.4 ounces will still be tagged by the X-ray scanner, but instead of an agent opening your bag to search for the offending item, you will be asked to remove the item yourself and then put the bag back on the conveyor belt.

The exception to the 3.4 ounce rule now is that passengers may carry containers of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces. But it must be removed from your luggage and placed in a baggie before X-ray screening. 

If you usually put personal items like phone, keys, wallet, or belt in a security tub, you are now asked to put these inside your bag or in a plastic bag, not directly on the tray. The same goes for food or snacks. Place these in a clear plastic bag in a separate tray from luggage to help eliminated cross-contamination.

New procedures

Some airlines add temperature monitoring as an additional security protection. TSA is reportedly planning to take passengers’ temperatures on a trial basis at certain airports and possibly deny travel or rebook people who register 100.4 F. If this practice becomes universal policy, it will probably last into the future just as the requirement to remove shoes has become ingrained in our travel psyche.

Cleaning in airports has been dramatically increased at all levels and conducted more frequently than in the past. Hand sanitizing stations are established throughout terminals. Gate areas and jet bridges may be cleaned with electrostatic sprayers using high-grade disinfectants.

At present many airlines and lounge operators have closed these facilities while they determine increased sanitizing protocols and changes to how they serve food and drinks. You will likely still be able to peruse airport retail stores, but don’t be surprised if water bottles hit $10. With limited or no in-flight food and beverage service, options will be available but probably pricier. 

Required ID

If your driver’s license expired after March 1, 2020, and you haven’t renewed it at  your local agency, it will be accepted for a year after the expiration date, plus 60 days after the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. Also, you have another year to obtain a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, the one with a star in the upper right hand corner. The new deadline is October 1, 2021.

If you choose to fly, be aware that you might need extra time at the airport. Plan for it—and no grumbling. All these changes (including masks during flight) are in the interest of health and safety, both for travelers and workers. Some may be temporary, but you can expect that some will be with us for a long time. 

Photos from free sources

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