Are concerns about COVID-19 holding you back from booking your next vacation? If you’re still hesitant to travel, fly on an airplane, or step foot in an airport, you should know about Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s new FlyHealthy @ SEA program. The Port of Seattle has implemented dozens of new cleaning and safety protocols throughout the airport to keep passengers and employees safe and healthy. Last week, I had the opportunity to take a tour of the airport to see these changes firsthand and to get a feel for the air travel experience in 2020.
First, here are some of the major changes of the FlyHealthy @ SEA program:
- A requirement to wear face coverings in the public areas of SEA
- Signage for reminders and spacing to honor physical distancing
- Plastic protective barriers that buffer travelers and airport employees
- Frequent disinfection with medical-grade cleaning products
- Added over 250 hand sanitizer stations throughout the terminal for your use. Download the SEA App with our interactive map of hand sanitizer locations.
- Each dining and retail tenant at SEA developed COVID-19 operational readiness plans detailing procedures such as physical distancing requirements, sanitation and personal hygiene protocols, personal protective equipment, and how to provide services while limiting close interactions.
- Launched Pre-Book Parking to pay for SEA Airport parking online for a safe and contact-less transaction prior to arrival. By booking in advance, save up to 25% on drive-up parking rates.
As soon as you walk into the airport, you will start seeing social distancing signage, hand sanitizer stations, and plexiglass in front of customer service associates. As far as masks go, the requirement to wear face coverings is not a mere guideline; this policy is strictly enforced throughout the airport. Unless you are actively eating or briefly showing a TSA agent your face while passing through security, airport staff will work to ensure that everyone is wearing a mask at all times.
To avoid any unnecessary contact upon your arrival at the airport, it is advisable to download your boarding pass to your smart phone or device so you can head directly to the security line. If you are not comfortable with that, you’re welcome to print your boarding pass from one of the digital kiosks (which are continuously sanitized throughout the day) or from a gate agent behind a protective plexiglass window.
Once you have your boarding pass, get in line at one of the security checkpoints. On a typical day at the airport, there are far fewer people waiting in line at these checkpoints than you may be accustomed to, and social distancing placards are posted throughout the line as well. Security bins for your belongings are sanitized frequently and, in my experience, everyone at the security checkpoint was as respectful as possible regarding personal space. So, even though this may be the most congested point in your airport journey, the new rules and regulations make this process even safer than it was pre-pandemic.
On our tour of the airport, we had a chance to see how two airlines that have partnered with the Port of Seattle, Alaska and Delta, are going above and beyond to protect their passengers. At Alaska Airlines, immediately after passengers from the previous flight deplane, a cleaning team is sent on the plane to thoroughly disinfect and sanitize each seat, restroom, and every single touchpoint throughout the plane. They also use a highly advanced ($2500+) electrostatic sprayer, a device that sprays positively charged disinfectant particles which cling to each surface, to thoroughly disinfect the entire cabin. Impressive stuff!
After the cleaning crew has certified the plane as clean and ready for boarding, Alaska Airlines boards from the back of the plane to eliminate the need for passengers to pass one another. In addition, all middle seats will remain empty (unless everyone in your row belongs to the same party) so passengers can maintain social distancing. Masks are required on all flights as well and unless you are actively eating or drinking, you must always keep your mask on, no exceptions.
Delta Air lines has many new cleaning and safety protocols as well. They have taken the initiative to install their own hand sanitizing stations throughout the airport before you even get to your gate. After the previous flight deplanes, their elite squad (dare I say, Delta Force?) of professional cleaners have their own electrostatic sprayer and each individual seat, surface, restroom, and touchpoint is thoroughly scrubbed and sanitized.
Delta also boards from the back of the plane to eliminate the need for most passengers to encounter one another. Finally, not only does Delta keep all middle seats open, they recently announced that this policy will be extended through January 2021, ensuring all holiday travelers will have ample personal space on their flights.
One of the biggest concerns skeptical travelers have with air travel during a pandemic is the quality of the air on airplanes during flights. However, it was surprising to learn that planes used by Alaska and Delta use advanced HEPA air filters which filter out 99.99% of particles and completely refresh the air in cabins every two to five minutes. Thus, on flights with such advanced filtration systems, all passengers and staff wearing masks, and empty middle seats, taking flight is far safer than one would imagine.
Overall, I was quite impressed by the cleaning and safety protocols implemented by the Port of Seattle, Alaska Airlines, and Delta Air lines. These airlines are working with top infectious diseases experts at prestigious universities throughout the country, who frequently review and help shape their cleaning and safety policies. The Port of Seattle has done an amazing job quickly responding to a public health crisis by enacting new cleaning and safety protocols throughout the airport. Before I took this tour, I was one of those people who was hesitant to travel. Now, I feel very comfortable and confident as I start to research my next vacation!