Gephardt: How Your Next Flight Will Be Different Than Any You’ve Taken Before

May 7, 2020, 10:39 PM | Updated: May 8, 2020, 5:04 am

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s rush hour at Salt Lake City International Airport, but it’s eerily quiet.

Baggage carousels are not creaking. There are no lines to see an agent. It takes about two minutes to clear security.

The KSL Investigators watched for hours as travelers came through. Their numbers could be counted on your fingers.

Everywhere you look you see masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and folks keeping their distance – which is not exactly hard to do.

Perhaps most striking is the smell. Airports have always had a distinct aroma, right? A combination of food, coffee roasting, jet fuel and people who haven’t slept for a little too long. On Thursday, it smelled static, like a hospital.

No question about it, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the air travel industry to its knees and experts said it will likely change the way we fly forever.

The director of Salt Lake International, Bill Wyatt, described airport operations as “crazy.”

“We’re trying to keep the airport open on the one hand, and on the other hand, building a $4 billion project,” he said.

In some ways, SLC is in an enviable position. While airports around the globe are trying to figure out ways to be elastic, expanding to meet the new demands of travelers, Salt Lake was in the middle of a complete overhaul, building a much bigger airport at a time when we are all being told it’s a good idea to spread out.

Asked if there were any changes to the plan as a result of COVID-19, Wyatt said there were very few physical tweaks.

“We’ve had a request from several airlines to create sneeze guards, so we’re going to do that,” he said.

Other than that, Wyatt said the name of the game will be social distancing. Travelers will see more check-in locations, travelers tagging their own bags and being encouraged to use cell phone apps for their boarding passes.

Screening passengers will likely also mean checking for fevers and no more crowding the gate before a flight.

The challenge, of course, is that no individual airport can do something on its own. By the nature of air travel, people are coming in from airports all over the globe.

“You’re only as good as your weakest link,” Wyatt said. “But there is a lot of conversation going on about what kinds of steps are going to be successful and make the public feel safe in getting on an airplane again.”

The feds have also changed their rules. The TSA will recommend you remove items from your pockets, like phones, keys and wallets and put them directly into your carry-on bags instead of into the bins. You will be allowed to wear a mask during the screening process but will have to pull it down so agents can confirm your identity.

And liquid hand sanitizer is now allowed in containers up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags. That’s four times bigger than the previous liquid allowance.

Anytime there is a change at security, it creates a bottleneck.

“Passengers will need to remember it will take more time for them to get through the screening process,” the TSA said.

All those efforts on the ground won’t be possible in the air. It’s harder to social distance once you’re on board.

Many airlines have indicated they expect the days of trying to sell every seat on a plane are behind them and that both passengers and the crew members will be expected to wear masks.

You are likely also see changes aimed at minimizing touchpoints for travelers, like no more in-flight magazines and changes with food and beverage delivery. Some will be discontinued and some you’ll pick up before you board.

Lining up for the airplane bathroom will likely be forbidden and they’ll be cleaned more frequently — as will the entire plane between flights.

Other changes may be more striking, like middle seats blocked out or maybe even entire rows removed.

Airline analyst Seth Kaplan said all of these changes will cost the airlines boatloads of cash, which you can expect to see passed on to you. The days of being able to pop over to Paris or Amsterdam for the amount of money you can find in your couch cushions are likely gone.

“They would have to get all the same money, basically, from far fewer people,” Kaplan said.

On board, look for a return of the penny pinching that had begun to go away in recent years.

“These airlines had finally gotten back to a point where they weren’t just struggling to get through the day,” Kaplan said. “Some of them … were actually restoring some of the things that they had taken away. The free snacks and free beer and wine on a long-haul flight to Europe, that sort of thing. And I mean, that’s all gone now.”

Experts and airlines with whom the KSL Investigators spoke said the biggest hurdle is the unknown: how long will this crisis last and how long until people feel safe getting back in the sky.

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

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Gephardt: How Your Next Flight Will Be Different Than Any You’ve Taken Before