New Air Travel Rules You Need to Know About
New air travel rules are in place. Here's what you need to know.
New rules to account for the virus
A shoe bomber. Liquid explosives. An underwear bomber. A plot to detonate explosive cargo. These are just four of the threats the American aviation industry has thwarted since September 11, 2001, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly. But for every threat, the DHS comes up with new rules to keep us safe, including these which began rolling out in 2017 and are now in full effect at all U.S. airports, according to this press release from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). And the recent coronavirus outbreak has caused unprecedented changes in worldwide travel. Here are some regulations that have gone into effect to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as other safety and convenience-related air travel rules all travelers should know about. Find out exactly what to do if a world crisis forces you to cancel a trip.
No flights from much of Europe
On Wednesday, March 11, President Trump announced that the United States would be suspending travel from all European countries besides the United Kingdom for 30 days (controversially without consulting European leaders). The government quickly clarified that it only applies to the 26 countries of the “Schengen Area,” countries that have abolished border controls between them. These countries are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The suspension officially takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, March 13. It also only applies to those who are not permanent residents of the United States. The White House site has a full list of people who will not be affected.
Tweaked flight schedules
Airlines are responding bit by bit to the sudden ban and the news is constantly changing, but as of press date, Norwegian Air has suspended most of its transatlantic flights (routes between the United States and London are still running) and has laid off around half of its employees. Delta Airlines has also suspended seven routes, including a Cincinnati-Paris route and a Portland-Amsterdam route. Luckily, fliers can get a full refund, even ones who have a nonrefundable ticket. For more on the coronavirus, find out what the words “epidemic” and “pandemic” really mean.
After the United States announced its travel ban from the Schengen Area, prices for flights from Europe to the United States predictably skyrocketed. On Thursday, March 12, American Airlines and United Airlines announced that they were capping their Main Cabin fares. Flights from Europe—including the United Kingdom, a country not part of the Schengen Area—will be maximum 799 euros (just shy of $900) or 799 British pounds (about $1,000). They also capped fares from the United States at $1,000. The caps are in effect until March 24. Find out how much the coronavirus is costing the world so far.
Rules for travelers from certain countries
Since February 3, 2020, foreign nationals who have been to China in the last 14 days cannot enter the United States. That restriction was then extended to Iran as well; both of these countries have been declared “Level 3” by the CDC. This restriction excludes U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and their families, who can still come into the country but must go through one of the 20 airports currently offering coronavirus screenings. Those airports, as of press date, are Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York (JFK or EWR), San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, Houston, San Diego, Anchorage, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, El Paso and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Delta Airlines has suspended flights to China, Japan (which has a Level 2 notice), and South Korea (also a Level 3) until the end of May. They’ve also suspended flights to Italy through April 30.
Travel restrictions for service members
On Wednesday, March 11, the Secretary of Defense announced a 60-day restriction on travel for service members. This restricts all forms of travel to, from, or through areas designated as “Level 3” locations by the CDC. In addition, civilians and families of service members cannot travel to “Level 2” locations for 60 days. These restrictions are effective Friday, March 13.
Safer air travel is now mandated by law
As of January 1, 2020, planes flying in most U.S. controlled airspace must be equipped with something called “Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast” (ADS-B), which uses GPS technology to calculate an airplane’s precise location, speed, and direction and transmits this information twice per second to ADS-B receivers. The new law is expected not only to enhance air travel safety but is also an environmentally-friendly technology. Here are 6 facts that will help you feel less anxious about air travel.
Lots of people have been standing on line (for hours) at the DMV to trade in their existing state driver’s license for a REAL ID or enhanced driver’s license. That’s because new TSA requirements slated to go into effect on October 1, 2020, would seem to require you to have one of these new-fangled forms of identification if you plan to board a plane anywhere in the United States. But as it turns out, you don’t need one of these new forms of ID if you have a passport or any TSA-approved forms of identification. If you do need to renew your license, find out how you can avoid the lines at the DMV.
Stricter rules on emotional support animals
Something else to think about are the new, more restrictive rules on pet travel that have already been imposed by major airlines, including those that apply to emotional support animals (ESA). The rules vary among airlines, so it’s a good idea to check with the specific airline every time you travel because the rules are constantly evolving. That’s partly in response to lobbying groups such as Airlines for America, which is pushing for new rules that would ban ESAs (but not service dogs). All of that said, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has a say in what kinds of rules airlines can make regarding service dogs and emotional support animals. Find out the 10 best airlines for traveling with pets.
Families shouldn’t have to pay extra to sit together
More and more airlines are charging a fee if you want to choose your seat. For some, this is a new annoyance, but for those traveling with children, it can be either very expensive or very traumatic. “I get calls from families all over the nation, telling me about being separated from their children on flights,” says Rainer Jenns, president of the Family Travel Association, which promotes family travel. That includes one from a mother who was separated on a flight from her four-year-old autistic child.
But here’s something you should know: it’s also illegal since 2016, when Congress enacted the Families Flying Together Act, which required airlines to seat any child under the age of 13 adjacent to a family member, at no additional cost. The trouble is, DOT hasn’t been enforcing the Act. That being said, the DOT told Today it receives “very few” complaints over family seating arrangements. If you find yourself having to make a choice between being separated from your children and paying a “seat selection fee,” contact DOT. Find out the best airlines for economy class fliers.
Marijuana is still not legal on airplanes, but…
Since marijuana is now legal for recreational use in nearly 25 percent off the United States, albeit not under federal law, it’s understandable there’s been some confusion about whether it’s “cool” to fly with your gummies from, say Michigan to Massachusetts (marijuana is legal for recreation in both states). Recently, however, the TSA made a statement in its What Can I Bring guide (as well as on Instagram) to the effect that if a TSA agent suspects a substance is marijuana, they’re legally required to notify law enforcement. That should make things pretty clear, right? Well, maybe not so much, since in the very same statement (as well as in the very same Instagram post, which begins, “Are we cool? We think we’re cool”), the TSA goes on to say it’s not interested in looking for marijuana. Further, the TSA now expressly permits people to fly with marijuana- and CBD-infused products that contain no more than 0.3 percent THC and are produced legally under federal law. So, what’s okay to bring? Right now, it would appear that any CBD product that contains little to no THC will pass muster. Same with the hemp-based epilepsy medication, Epidiolex. All of that said, that’s not to say the TSA won’t involve law enforcement. It’s just that if they do, you’ll be well within your rights.
Compensation for Canadian travel delays
As of the end of 2019, the Air Passenger Protection Regulations provides that travelers on flights to, from, and within Canada, are eligible for money damages for being bumped, for delays under certain circumstances, and for damage or loss of baggage. For example, the loss of a bag could mean as much as $2,100 in compensation, while delays of up to six hours caused by being bumped from a flight merit $900 in compensation, and longer delays merit more money, as much as $2,400 for nine hours and beyond. Even if you’re not traveling to or from Canada, it’s important to know your rights in the event you end up on an overbooked flight.
Onboard cell phone calls?
Like it or not, the technology already exists, it’s just a question of when it will be trotted out, according to CNN, which notes that airlines are unlikely to permit in-flight cell-phoning until they feel significant pressure from consumers. Even then, it might still take a bit of FAA- or airline-arm-twisting. Still, the network reports in-flight cell phone calls are likely only a year or two away. Let’s hope passengers follow these cell phone etiquette rules.
“Facing” privacy issues
Facial recognition technology promises to be the latest “convenience” in air travel. Instead of showing your ticket and passport, you’ll just have to show your face to a scanner. This technology is already in use in many airports and is projected to be used a the top 20 major U.S. airports by the end of the year. But there’s something you should consider, and that’s whether in making use of this convenience, you’re giving up civil liberties. Here’s more on why you should be concerned about facial recognition and boarding passes.
Patience and preparedness required
“Federal grant money is allowing many airports to hire more screeners and purchase enhanced equipment,” legal expert Randolph Rice tells Reader’s Digest. As a result, new TSA employees are going to be using new and more sensitive screening tools, leading to longer lines and longer waits for passengers. “This may require more patience,” advises Rice, and according to the TSA, it also requires preparation. “Passenger preparedness can have a significant impact on wait times at security checkpoints nationwide,” the TSA stated in this recent press release, and that means being aware of the following.
If you haven’t noticed this already, TSA officers are paying attention not only to what you packed in your carry-on, but how you packed it. If your bag is overstuffed such that the X-ray machine can’t get a clear and unobstructed view of what’s in it, you may be asked to unpack and place your items in a bin in order to go through the X-ray machine. In case that’s not your idea of fun, the TSA advises travelers to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered. Here are 12 more ways to take the stress out of air travel.
Almost all your personal electronics are subject to screening
The TSA now requires travelers to place all personal electronics larger than a cell phone (such as tablets, e-readers, and handheld game consoles) into bins for X-ray screening in standard security lines, according to this TSA press release. These are the 13 things the airlines won’t tell you.
Prohibition on powders
What’s wrong with baby powder, you might wonder? Nothing—except it’s tough to tell just by looking that it’s actually baby powder and not something toxic or dangerous. As a result, the TSA now scrutinizes powdered substances in amounts greater than 350 milliliters (about the size of a soda can), and if an agent can’t be sure a powder is safe, the traveler may be asked to discard it. Your best bet is to avoid packing powder items in your carry-on; if you do, remove it from your bag and place it in a bin before being asked.
“Dense” foods subject to increased scrutiny
TSA officers may now ask travelers to take food out of their carry-on bags, particularly if the food is “dense” enough to interfere with the X-ray machine’s view of the other contents. What’s a dense food? Canned foods may be considered dense, according to the TSA, as well as baby formula, breast milk, and baby food. All of these items should be removed from your carry-on and placed into bins for easier screening, the TSA advises. Don’t miss these 10 popular travel tips that are no longer true.
Prohibition on foods in gel form
When it comes to carry-ons, the TSA has banned all liquid and gel foods larger than 3.4 ounces (as well as liquids and gels larger than 3.4 ounces that are not foods, such as hair gel, gel pens, and gel ice packs). If the item can be spilled, sprayed, spread, pumped or poured, you should pack it in checked luggage or leave it at home, according to the travel blog Recommend.
Even a cookie?
On a recent flight from Sacramento International Airport, Julie Sze, a professor at the University of California, Davis, was asked to remove a cookie from her carry-on bag and place it into a separate bin, the Sacramento Bee reports. Don’t fall for these 20 common myths about air travel.
You may as well unpack all your food…
Recently at the Denver International Airport, TSA was making everyone in the security line remove all their snacks and food products from their carry-on bags and place them in bowls and bins. “If you left any in there, they pulled your bag aside for enhanced screening,” according to travel blog Running with Miles, resulting in a waiting time that averaged an extra 30 minutes.
Books aren’t banned—thank goodness—but you may be asked to remove any you have in your carry-on and place them in a bin for closer scrutiny; TSA agents may fan through the pages to see if anything is hidden. This is even more likely to happen if you’re carrying multiple books, which could get in the way of X-ray screening. Plan to place your books in a bin before being asked. Here are 13 more things that make you more likely to get flagged by the TSA.
It might seem strange that magazines are now subject to increased scrutiny by TSA agents, particularly since many of the magazines that end up on airplanes are actually purchased in the airport—but it’s true: A gate guard may page through your periodicals.
Unidentified objects won’t fly
“Items that cannot be identified and resolved at the checkpoint are prohibited from entering the cabin of the aircraft,” the TSA announced in a press release. That means that the contents of your carry-on bags will be subject to more scrutiny than they have been in the past. If you’d rather not have everything displayed in public, you can request a private screening. Check out these 16 other air travel mistakes you need to stop making before your next flight.
Tips on being prepared
The TSA advises that the best way to ensure a quick trip through the security screening process is to prepare:
- Arrive two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight
- Know what you might have to remove from your carry-on before arriving at the security line
- Consider packing items that are subject to increased scrutiny in your checked baggage
- Minimize items that you wear to the airport such as bulky jewelry, scarves, accessories, and if you must wear them, place what you can in bins
And be sure to retrieve everything you placed in bins. Don’t miss these 40 secrets airline pilots won’t tell you.