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What to Expect if You Have to Travel Now

Changes at Airports, Hotels and Car Rental Counters

The term “new normal” is part of our everyday vocabulary now, with its meaning constantly shifting — especially when it comes to travel. 

So, if you must take a personal or work trip now or in the near feature, here’s what to expect at airports, on airplanes, in hotels and at car rental counters.

Keep in mind that information relating to travel safety is changing quickly these days and checking websites for the latest news is advised.

Airports and Airlines

Airports in the Northwest and beyond remain open, but flight schedules are temporarily limited. Be sure to check with your airline in advance.

When you get to the airport, things may not look the same. For example, many shops and concessions are closed or operating at reduced hours. Support them with a purchase if you can, but bring a sandwich or snack from home just in case.

To protect passengers, airline crews and employees, all airports have significantly increased their cleaning protocols and are enforcing social distancing. Plexiglass shields are installed at many TSA security checkpoint podiums. And, until further notice, TSA is allowing passengers to bring bottles of sanitizer up to 12 ounces in carry-on bags. You may be asked to take those bottles out of your carry-on for separate scanning, so pack them in an easy-to-access spot.

You will see many airport and airline employees wearing masks. Many airlines, including Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines (as of May 11), now require passengers to wear a face mask as well from check-in to boarding and in-flight. In some cases, masks may be provided, but it is best to bring a supply of your own.

Here are some helpful extras from our regional airports.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) has added more than 230 hand-sanitizing stations and created a searchable map to help you find them. The airport has closed security checkpoints 1 and 5 until further notice and is now processing TSA PreCheck passengers only at checkpoint 4.

Paine Field Passenger Terminal (PAE) in Everett, Washington, is using UV technology to disinfect the terminal and has installed a non-invasive, non-contact temperature detection system in the pre-security area of the terminal. If the thermal camera flags a passenger as having a fever, they will be offered a secondary screening. And if a fever is confirmed, “the passengers and the airline will determine their ability to travel,” the airport said in a statement.

As we go forward, do not be surprised if fever checks become the “new normal” for U.S. travelers, as it is at many airports in Asia.

Airlines have increased and adjusted their cleaning protocols and most every U.S. airline now requires passengers to wear face masks during boarding and in-flight as well.

Many airlines also are implementing back-to-front boarding, social distancing in the gate area and on the jetways, and blocking middle seats.

In-flight food and beverage services are reduced or eliminated on most airlines, so be sure to bring some snacks or get take-out food at the airport. In addition, remember to wipe down any high-touch area around your seat on the plane, including the tray table and seat armrest.

Rental Cars

Hertz, Thrifty, Dollar and other car rental agencies now promise enhanced cleaning routines for the airport rental booth locations, shuttle buses and the vehicles, where more attention is being paid to cleaning high-touch areas such as door handles, steering wheels, dashboards, consoles and seats.

If you plan on renting a car at an airport, keep in mind that, like other airport services, rental counter hours may be curtailed. For that reason, and for an added layer of social distancing, this is a good time to sign up for car rental company express programs that let you skip both the check-in and return counters.

AAA members get free Hertz Gold membership. Find out how.


In addition to their enhanced cleaning programs, hotel brands such as Marriott, Best Western and Hilton are embracing the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s industry-wide “Stay Safe” set of health and safety protocols for hotels that was rolled out this past May 4.

The program guidelines cover everything from signage and employee training to cleaning products and protocols for sanitizing everything from public spaces and guest rooms to laundry, elevator buttons and food service items.

While reassuring, it is a good idea to use your sanitizing cloths to wipe down door handles, faucets, light switches and the TV remote control once you check into any hotel room.

– Written by Harriet Baskas

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