It’s no secret that the world has drastically changed since COVID-19 hit. If you’ve stayed closer to home so far but are considering booking a flight, you may find yourself wondering just how much air travel has changed due to the pandemic.
Those of us who are more anxious flyers will especially want to read up on the latest flying experiences to know what to expect. Before you book that next flight, read on for a preview of what flying will be like based on recent domestic flights that I took between Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota (MSP), to Tucson, Arizona (TUS) on Delta Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.
Parking at the Airport
Anyone who has ever flown a commercial airline knows that airport parking can be an interesting experience. These days, you will absolutely want to check on the parking situation before you head to your airport for takeoff.
At MSP for instance, some form of transportation is necessary to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 and from some parking lots to the terminals. Generally, MSP runs a free shuttle service for travelers. However, it isn’t currently available due to COVID-19, so you’ll have to take the light rail train or book a rideshare like Uber. The Tucson airport on the other hand still features a 24/7 shuttle service to help flyers get from parking lots to the terminal.
How Crowded Is It?
Once you’ve navigated the parking and transportation options, your next stop is the actual airport, which is usually crowded. However, air travel is significantly down, so you’re likely to find fewer crowds and lines at the airport these days. In fact, the MSP airport traffic dropped by about 62 percent in 2020 while TUS numbers fell more than 50 percent.
With air traffic numbers down and fewer people choosing to fly, the TSA security lines are a breeze. In MSP, the process is now more streamlined since they aren’t requiring passengers to remove liquids or electronics from carry-on baggage. Travelers simply place purses or personal items in the bins, walk through the body scanner and collect their items. Both MSP and TUS security lines took less than ten minutes to navigate, which is pretty astounding compared to normal wait times.
The downside to a less crowded airport is the lack of options to get to your hotel once you land. Even at the relatively early hour of 8:15 p.m. in Tucson, the airport was deserted. Passengers struggled to find available drivers through Uber or Lyft, with some waiting more than 30 minutes. I had two Uber drivers cancel on me!
Don’t make the mistake of assuming you’ll find readily available transportation to your hotel once you land. Instead, try booking a car or rideshare ahead of time so you’ll avoid spending extra time waiting for an on-call driver.
Restaurants and Shops
Hopping on a plane means some down time as you wait for boarding to begin. (It’s no coincidence that airports have an assortment of bars, restaurants and shops to help you occupy your time.) As with parking options, you may want to look up the hours of these amenities at your airport to see what’s open.
Businesses at Terminal 1 at the MSP airport were largely open, with sit-down restaurants and fast-food options available for hungry travelers. Only a handful of the shops near the Delta gate were closed, meaning MSP patrons still have a variety of cuisine options and can stock up on snacks for their flight. The airport in Tucson is much different, with only one restaurant and one convenience store open at Gate A.
The experience you have during your flight will be heavily influenced by which airline you choose, as always, but a few things remain the same across carriers. For starters, don’t expect to be able to order snacks or beverages while you’re flying on any airline’s shorter domestic routes. Differences in amenities can be expected, with Delta flyers receiving a goodie bag upon boarding the plane that’s filled with snacks and water. They also enjoy free in-flight entertainment. Sun Country’s passengers, however, receive one bottle of water and no extra amenities.
Travelers on Delta’s flights will also enjoy extra room thanks to the empty middle seats, at least through April 2021. In sharp contrast, Sun Country’s return flight from TUS to MSP was quite full with no extra space between passengers.
What About Masks or Temperature Checks?
Masks are mandated for airline travel right now. Several signs are posted throughout both MSP and TUS telling passengers that masking up is required, and you’ll hear regular overhead announcements throughout the facilities as well. Forgot your mask or had one break on you? You can purchase them in either of the airports at various vending machines.
You may remove masks once you’re seated to eat within the terminal but will need to put your mask back on if you get up to order food, use the restroom, or when you’re finished with your meal. On board, you’ll need your mask on at all times when not actively eating or drinking. Airline attendants were polite and courteous, but don’t be tempted to try to skirt the mask rule—you may get banned from future flights.
I had heard of temperature checks on some international flights, so I was curious about domestic routes. Neither Delta nor Sun Country took passenger temperatures, so you won’t need to worry about that for now.