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7 ways to avoid flying on a crowded plane during a pandemic

In an age of social distancing, it is very important to make sure that you choose a flight that takes you to your destination, not only comfortably, but also safely. Reader's Digest... Here are some secrets on how to avoid a crowded plane during your trip.

Photo: Shutterstock

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in April, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported a 96% drop in passenger checks. If you had to fly then you would have almost the entire plane at your disposal. In the midst of restrictions due to coronavirus in the spring, airlines in good faith blocked middle seats and lowered capacity on all flights.

But as summer came on, people started returning to airports: 32% of American consumers said they "definitely" plan to fly again before the end of 2020, and according to the Value Penguin, 40% of them will do so in the summer. A new survey by Allianz Travel found that the majority of surveyed customers (59%) plan domestic travel, while 54% want to fly abroad. Combine this increase in passenger numbers with the reduction in routes and aircraft in the sky, and then add the fact that some airlines have loosened their capacity restrictions. That is, you can easily find yourself in a jam-packed plane.

How to avoid this? In the midst of a pandemic, the safest option is not to fly at all. However, if you are going to the airport, make sure to fly with the maximum safe distance between passengers. Wear a mask, be alert and flexible, follow these tips to avoid crowded flights.

Choose the best airline

Not all airlines are created equal when it comes to seat selection. Some of them, including Delta, JetBlue, Alaska and Southwest, still limit the number of people on each flight, while others - United and American - sell every possible seat. If you have options, go for airlines that still block middle seats and restrict passenger traffic, making it easy for you to deal with social distancing.

On the subject: How to protect yourself from COVID-19 when traveling: tips from a businessman who has made 33 business trips

Study the landing pattern

Once you choose your airline, take a close look at the table of seats. It is best to choose a location with as much space around it as possible, ideally with an open space next to it. If you can't see a seat map for your route, check out the Seat Guru website, which provides maps and overviews of all the seats available on flights. If you don't have an ideal seat, create an Expert Flyer account who will let you know if your desired window or aisle seat is available.

Pay for extra seat

If you've saved up points or had an extra travel budget, now is the time to use it to improve your position on the plane. If you can pay for Business Class, where there is always seat spacing, do so, but even Premium Economy Class closer to the front of the plane will have more room than those seated further away. For now, you should avoid the basic economy class options, in which you are assigned a random seat.

Use technology

You can find out all the latest regulations your airline has to offer using FlySafe. And Pilota's free browser extension shows travelers what precautions are taken on every flight. By downloading it, you can see detailed ratings from passengers, as well as mask requirements, seat locking and capacity restrictions, see if surgical grade HEPA filters are used in flight, and if personal protective equipment is provided. You can also collect information about cabin handling, flexible rules for flight changes and cancellations.

Travel mid-week

If you can choose, you will be more likely to find less congested flights. Flights on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday tend to be less busy (and cheaper!) Than flights on Mondays and Fridays, says Scott Keyes, founder and chief flight expert at Scott Airlines.

Fly outside rush hour

The most popular flight times are early morning and early evening. Keyes says the flights will be the busiest at this time. When choosing flights, look for non-peak times (this usually corresponds to the cheapest flights). Mid-day flights are usually less busy than morning or evening flights. You can try flying in the middle of the night - not only are there fewer people on them, but passengers also often sleep, which means that fewer people will walk in the aisles or talk to each other.

On the subject: Flights after quarantine: many people who do not have COVID-19 will not be allowed on the plane

Use alternative airports

Finding less popular routes will reduce the number of contacts. When searching for routes on a booking site such as Expedia, or on an airline's website, select “Nearby airports”. Often in major cities like New York or Los Angeles, you have several options nearby. Choosing a small airport like Westchester over JFK in New York or Orange County over LAX in California will automatically result in fewer people at the airport and on your flight.

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