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What airlines are doing to keep travelers safe despite 50% drop in passenger travel

Airport officials attribute the drastic year-over-year drop to COVID-19. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics found air travel dropped by 51.5 percent nationwide.

HOUSTON — New data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show people traveling by plane decreased by more than 50 percent nationwide from March 2019 to March 2020.

The numbers from the BTS poll 24 airlines that carry 99 percent of the passengers, dropping to the lowest level of air travel in almost than two decades.

Houston's Bush and Hobby airports experienced the same drop across both domestic and international travel at both airports.

"For April, we expect the numbers to continue being low until the environment for flying stabilizes or normalizes around the world," said Augusto Bernal, a spokesperson for the Houston Airport System. "We know that people want to get that confidence back to coming to the airport to get in on an airplane."

The airlines carried slightly more total domestic and international passengers in March 2020 than in September 2001, the month of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the BTS.

A United Airlines spokesperson says the company reduced its flight schedule by 90 percent due to the coronavirus and the travel restrictions.

In April 2020, United flew the same number of passengers in the entire month as it flew in one day in April of last year, he said.

"The demand is not there," he said. "We hope it will go up in the near future."

Major airline companies now require passengers to wear face coverings while flying: Delta, American, Southwest, JetBlue, and United all have new policies to protect travelers.

Here are some other measures major airlines are taking:

United: limiting seat selection; using back-to-front boarding to promote social distancing; testing touchless kiosks in Chicago, Boston, Dallas, and Orlando; and starting May 12, providing customers with individually wrapped hand sanitizing wipes.

JetBlue: limiting seat selection; increasing cleaning; self-scanning boarding passes

Delta: increasing cleaning; increasing access to hand sanitizer

American: limiting seat selection; increasing cleaning

Southwest: limiting seat selection, increasing cleaning

"This is something that is going to become normal," said Bernal.

Airport staff are doing their part, too. Houston Airport System employees are cleaning now more than ever, Bernal said, and encouraging social distancing and proper hygiene.

"This is just to keep the public safe and keep our employees safe, and to give confidence to everybody that you can come to the airport and you can fly out in a safe and trustworthy manner," said Bernal.

The TSA is also changing its policies, allowing people to bring hand sanitizer and even large canisters of wipes on board.

Before your flight, check with your airline to know what measures they are taking to keep you safe, what services may be temporarily suspended, and what may be required of you.


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