At the start of the pandemic, there was a lot of speculation as to how air travel might change. Perhaps masks would be mandatory from takeoff to landing and maybe — hopefully! — airlines would eliminate the dreaded middle seat. Now as flights ramp back up, we’re seeing actual changes on the ground (and in the air).
New rules and procedures have introduced a lot of information for travellers to sift through. We’ve consolidated the most relevant updates to answer your questions about what to expect in the airport and on the plane.
The industry is still experimenting with different approaches to keep passengers, airport workers, and airline crews safe — so you can expect rules to change as we learn more about what’s working and what isn’t. For the most up-to-date rules, always refer to airport and airline websites.
Flying post-COVID is certainly different. In many cases, airlines are still serving food or drinks on the plane. However, some have suspended in-flight service entirely to reduce contact between passengers and the flight crew.
Either way, you will likely experience different in-flight service than you’re used to, even on carriers that still offer food and drinks on the plane. The factors that affect your in-flight service experience include flight time, the airline you fly, and which cabin class you’re seated in.
It’s now common in coach and economy classes for flight attendants to offer passengers sealed individual snacks and a limited selection of canned beverages. Instead of multi-course meals in first class, airlines are now offering a single pre-wrapped tray or, in some cases, a pre-packaged boxed meal.
In general, beverages will no longer be poured from larger bottles and only be served in individual, sealed bottles, or cans. This includes alcohol, such as spirits, beer, and wine. In some cases, alcohol is not being served at all.
During flights under 2 hours and 20 minutes, economy passengers on United Airlines can only receive drinks upon request, but no snacks are served. During flights longer than 2 hours and 20 minutes, economy passengers will receive a snack bag with a water bottle and sanitizer wipe.
First-class passengers on flights under one hour must request drinks. Those on flights over one hour will receive a snack bag with water and a sanitizer wipe.
Long-haul flight economy passengers are served an entrée, snack and wrapped dessert, a packaged mid-flight meal, and pre-arrival snacks. Polaris and Premium Plus passengers will receive their meal on one covered tray, instead of in separate courses.
Lufthansa has announced a simplified on-board service through August 31, 2020. Economy class service varies by flight time:
• Flights less than 50 minutes: no beverage service
• Flights longer than 50 minutes: passengers provided with a bottle of water
• Flights longer than 150 minutes: passengers provided with a snack and usual beverage service
• Flights longer than 180 minutes: passengers served an additional vegetarian sandwich (preorder of special meals is still possible)
In business class, passengers can expect the usual food and beverage service. The preordering of special meals is also still possible.
Full drink service is available on all Qatar flights. Economy class meal service varies by flight time:
• Flights under 2 hours: a snack
• Flights over 2 hours: a main meal
• Flights over 7 hours: a main meal and snack
• Flights over 12 hours: two main meals and a snack
In first and business classes, pre-order meals are temporarily suspended and on-board social areas and lounges are temporarily closed. For meal service, these passengers can expect the following:
• Welcome drinks and refreshing wipes
• Single-use menu cards
• Dine on-demand served on a tray
• Full drinks and a snack selection
The reason carriers have modified or suspended food service is to help reduce contact between passengers and the flight crew. As prior to the pandemic, airlines are generally allowing passengers to bring food on board that complies with airport security guidelines and has passed the security checkpoint. Your food will need to fit inside your carry-on bag.
Travellers are allowed to bring food through airport security. However, you should remove any food and snacks from your carry-on bag, along with your bagged liquids, to be screened separately.
Here are some solid food items that are allowed:
• Baby food
• Cooked meat, seafood, and vegetables without liquid
• Dried fruit
Here are some food items that are treated as liquids and must adhere to the 100 ml/3.4oz requirements:
• Creamy cheese
• Liquid chocolate
• Dips and spreads
• Honey and maple syrup
• Ice cream
• Jam and jelly
• Oils and vinegars
• Peanut butter
• Salsas and sauces
Most fresh fruits and vegetables cannot be transported due to the risk of spreading invasive plant pests.
Keep in mind that the final decision rests with the security officer on duty as to whether an item is allowed through the checkpoint.
Some airports around the world are also stipulating that only one piece of carry-on luggage be brought through security to help minimize wait time and speed up the boarding and deplaning processes. Check with the airport you are departing from to see what the local requirements are.
This varies by airport, but you can generally expect reduced retail options. Many airport shops and restaurants remain closed, while others have reduced hours or are only offering takeaway. It’s recommended to check your airport’s website to see what changes have been made so you can plan accordingly.
Liquids of less than 100 ml/3.4oz are allowed through the airport security checkpoint, including alcohol, and must be placed in a single resealable quart-sized bag. However, regulations generally prohibit the consumption of personal alcohol on planes unless it’s provided by the airline. Carriers are allowing passengers to bring non-alcoholic beverages on board that were purchased from the airport terminal.
Masks that fully cover your nose and mouth are mandatory during flights. However, airlines understand that you cannot wear a face covering while eating or drinking. You’re allowed to lift or temporarily remove your mask to eat or drink. Afterward, you must put your mask back on as soon as possible.
Airlines that require masks to be worn on board the flight include Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, United, Southwest, Delta, Cathay Pacific, Air Canada, and TAP Air Portugal, to name a few.
Qatar Airways is one airline that requires economy passengers to wear face shields in addition to masks during the flight, which the airline hands out for free. They don’t need to be worn while eating or drinking. Business Class passengers are asked to wear the face shields at their own discretion.
The evolving state of travel
As you can see, much has changed since the start of the pandemic. The good news is that we’ve seen airlines evolve their restrictions over the last several months — even when it comes to food and drink. As more time passes and they continue to evaluate current processes, we can expect to see more adjustments to the current airport and in-flight experiences.
Remember to travel responsibly by following airport and airline rules, such as social distancing 2 meters/6 feet from others, wearing a mask, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, and not touching your face. Consult local authorities or your healthcare provider if you feel unwell before, during, or after travel, and revise your plans accordingly to keep yourself and others safe.
Discover where you can go
Making plans to get back out there? Find out which borders are open with our interactive global map. You can also sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.
Want to read more?
Much of the world is slowly reopening to travellers. Read more in Skyscanner’s latest coronavirus updates:
- Coronavirus travel questions: Your COVID-19 queries answered
- Tips for flying during coronavirus: essential face mask information
- The new world of hotels: What your hotel stay will be like during coronavirus
- Wellness travel: why it could be the post-coronavirus stress-buster you need
We update our coronavirus travel advice daily with changes to travel restrictions.