13 New Rules You’ll Have to Follow Next Time You Fly

Coronavirus has changed everything about the way we live, work, and shop and introduced a variety of new rules for travel that you'll experience the next time you fly.

Before the terror attacks of 9/11, we could hop on a plane with a full-size bottle of shampoo and sunblock and could breeze through security without taking our shoes off. It changed the way we fly forever.

Now, as the wheels of the travel industry start rolling down runways again, travelers are in for some subtle and dramatic new rules for flying. From physical distancing and masks to health screenings, carry-on baggage rule changes, and the end of automatic frequent flier seat upgrades, here are 13 new rules you’ll have to follow the next time you fly.

Masks

Turkish Airlines, whose guidelines for flying safely in the age of coronavirus could win an award for clarity and web design, says what every airline is saying right now—that masks must be worn to fly—but goes on to add that, “Since single-use surgical masks should be changed every four hours, you must bring extra masks and hygienic hand wipes to last you the duration of your journey.” Sadly, there are numerous recent reports of airlines and airports not enforcing this simple safety protocol.

Physical distancing in the airport before and after your flight

Staying physically distant from fellow passengers throughout the airport, at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint, and while boarding is one of the new rules you’ll have to follow the next time you fly. The same is true upon arriving at your destination. You may be required to keep the mask on and stay at least six feet away from other travelers while waiting to retrieve luggage at the baggage claim. Here’s what travel could look like after coronavirus.

Self-check-in

Almost all airlines have an app where you can check-in and receive a mobile boarding pass. One of the new rules you might have to follow the next time you travel is using that existing paperless and contactless self-check-in process to reduce touchpoints between passengers, flight crew and airport staff. You may also be required to place your phone on the reader yourself versus handing it off to the security agent to do so for you.

Health check

Before you enter you have to be screenedPeopleImages/Getty Images

While some international airlines and airports are doing temperature checks of passengers, United Airlines has added a less thorough albeit less invasive health and safety step to their check-in process. The new rule, “Requires you to acknowledge you don’t have symptoms for COVID-19”, and for you to verbally agree to follow United’s new policies for safe travel. Lufthansa is proceeding in a similar protocol for passengers to self-certify that they are healthy enough to fly. Find out what happened on a flight from Mexico to the United States during the pandemic.

Separate your food

The TSA is asking passengers to separate food for X-ray screening, by placing carry-on food items into a clear plastic bag and then put that bag into its own bin. This is because, “Food items often trigger an alarm during the screening process, so in separating the food from the carry-on bag it will be less likely that a TSA officer will need to open the carry-on bag and remove the food items for a closer inspection,” thus reducing a touchpoint.

Automated baggage check-in

Turkish Airlines, for one, is allowing for Automated Baggage Check-In kiosks at certain airports to reduce contact between passengers and baggage handlers. While not every airport is ready to facilitate such contactless service, the future of flight is destined to be more automated than before. Air travel isn’t the only thing changing, here’s how cruises will be different because of COVID-19.

Physical distancing on board

Most airlines will be leaving the middle seat open to give passengers more space on board. Southwest Airlines, for example, has announced they are not filling middle seats until August 1 at the earliest. Believe it or not, there are still ways you can get away this summer, including flying to someplace special.

New boarding rules

Empty airplaneMint Images/Getty Images

Boarding is consistently one of the more tedious aspects of air travel and thanks to coronavirus, it will take even longer. Delta is boarding customers ten at a time, while other airlines including Turkish Air are combining a similar kind of reduction in boarding groups while also inviting passengers to board back to front by rows after the pre-boarding process. Check out these 12 things you soon won’t see in airports anymore.

New liquid limits

While all other aerosols, liquids, and gels still must be under 3.4-ounces to come onboard an airplane with you, the TSA has responded to the pandemic by allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container, up to 12-ounces per passenger, to be stashed away in carry-on bags until further notice. The TSA goes on to note: “Since these containers exceed the standard allowance typically permitted through a checkpoint, they will need to be screened separately.”

Pack a lighter carry-on

Delta flight attendants are no longer permitted to help lift your carry-on luggage up into the overhead bin, and chances are that one friendly fellow passenger usually found onboard each plane will probably be hesitant too, so pack lighter or beef up before flying again. Some airlines, including Turkish Air, aren’t allowing you to carry on bags at all, aside from personal items such as a laptop, handbag, etc. Here are 10 more things flight attendants are no longer allowed to do anymore.

No more automatic seat upgrades

Delta announced that through at least June 2020, they are pausing automatic, advanced Medallion Complimentary Upgrades. The seat upgrades in priority order may still be processed for frequent fliers, but they will be processed at the gate. Per the airlines, this will allow, “Gate agents to determine how to best seat customers while considering aircraft weight-and-balance restrictions.”

Make sure you’re able to get into where you’re going

People rushing to departures loungesGrant Faint/Getty Images

Every country (as well as each state in the United States) is reopening on a different timetable and with different rules for entry—some require a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding the plane or a quarantine period upon arrival. One of the new rules of flying is to check your destination’s travel mandates before arriving at the airport to ensure you can freely enter. Check out the 13 safest vacations you can take this summer.

Disembarkation process

Most passengers are eager to get off the plane once it lands but this process, like boarding at the start of your journey, will be different, too. Turkish Airlines is promoting physical distancing by allowing passengers off ten at a time with two-minute intervals in between.

Once you get to your destination, it could look different, too. Find out what you won’t be seeing at hotels again.

Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.