What to expect when you fly

Things Are Looking Up

by Lacy Saye

The School Tours of America Houston staff toured the United Airlines terminal to preview the enhanced safety measures.
The School Tours of America team in Houston got an inside look at how United Airlines is keeping travelers safe.

Have you ever dreamed about getting a behind-the-scenes tour of an airport? Recently, some of our local staff in Houston and Washington, DC had the opportunity to get a “behind the scenes” look at one of our largest vendors, United Airlines. While each airline outlines their own respective measures, United Airlines offered our team an exclusive look inside the enhanced safety measures in place to keep travelers safe in our COVID-19 world.

Much like School Tours of America’s commitment to safety, United has spared no expense to ensure safety is the #1 priority. Just as we were called to adapt post 9/11, new measures are at every corner to protect travelers as much as possible. For example, masks are now considered part of the United uniform and are worn at all times. Staff also receive temperature checks twice daily including immediately upon arrival. Things may look and feel different when you fly again, but airlines are doing what it takes. Here’s an inside look at what to expect when your class travels next year.

Before you arrive

Face Masks: For the time being, face masks are required. You are allowed to remove your mask only when eating or drinking. Face shields must be accompanied by a face mask. You will not be permitted to fly if you are only wearing a shield. Masks will be provided if one is to break or you leave yours at home.

Temperature Checks: Currently, temperature checks are not being administered by TSA for domestic flights, however this could change at any time and in a specific location. We recommend referencing the websites of the TSA and your specific airline BEFORE arriving at the airport for your student trip.

Safety Agreement: To help protect the health of other travelers, you may be asked to complete a safety acknowledgement verifying that you are not experiencing COVID-like symptoms and have not recently been exposed to COVID-19.


Touchless Kiosk is used to check-in and check luggage at the United Airlines terminal
Touchless Kiosk used to check-in and check luggage.

Arrive Early: While some things may have changed, the recommendation of arriving at least 2 hours before your flight has not. Arrive early and give yourself plenty of time!

Social Distancing: You’ll be expected to practice social spacing of 6ft at certain junctures to respect passengers not traveling within your group. Look for the visual reminders on floor checkpoints.

Touchless Technology: United has made a special effort to incorporate touchless technology where possible, including kiosks for checking luggage. Travelers will now scan their boarding pass or use the app to prompt bag check.

Plexiglass Barriers: Plastic shielding will be in place at points of interaction with any airport staff.

Hand Sanitizer: There was no shortage of hand sanitizer at United or throughout the airport, which provided ample ability to sanitize hands when needed.

Security Check

A passenger walks through the TSA security check point with plexiglass barriers in place to keep everyone safe.
Plexiglass barriers protect both passengers and airport staff.

Reduced Physical Contact: TSA has implemented new processes to limit contact between officers and passengers. TSA officers are required to wear gloves and change them within each pat-down or passenger request. Plastic shielding is also used at major points of interaction.

Hand Sanitizer: TSA has relaxed their rules concerning liquid quantities, allowing one liquid hand sanitizer of up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags.


Plexiglass surrounds the boarding staging area to limit contact between passengers and airlines staff.

Back To Front: Perhaps the biggest change in procedure is how you board your flight. To reduce exposure, United passengers will now be boarded according to their seat location. Boarding will start with the back of the airplane, seating 5 rows at a time. Score one for flying coach!

Touchless: Once again, measures have been put in place to limit contact by having passengers scan their boarding pass to board the flight.


United staff applies a layer of electrostatic spray inside the cabin of an airplane to disinfect from germs.
A United team member applies a layer of Clorox electrostatic spray to thoroughly disinfect planes.

Electrostatic Sprayers: Committed to keeping travelers safe, United has partnered with Clorox as part of their United Clean Plus program to enhance cleaning efforts. Electrostatic spray is a disinfecting solution used before every flight to kill viruses. Electrostatic sprayers are also used throughout airport terminals to disinfect high-touch areas such as ticketing lobbies, gates and employee spaces.

Sanitizing Wipe: Furthering their commitment to help passengers feel safe while flying, United is providing each passenger with an antibacterial wipe to clean their seat and tray table.

HEPA Filters: Every aircraft is fitted with high efficiency filters, known as HEPA, that remove viruses, bacteria and dust. The filters United uses reportedly remove 99.97% of airborne particles from the air you breath while on a flight. The circulated air is dumped every 2-3 minutes, meaning the air you breath is constantly being filtered.

Snacks and Drinks: For the time being, expect food and drinks to be limited during your flight experience, dependent on the airline you're traveling with. United is offering pre-packaged snack bags. Unfortunately, they did not offer us a snack bag during our behind-the-scenes tour;  I was really hoping for a stroopwafel.  : )


A United team member holds a HEPA filter that instills clean air throughout the airplane cabin.
The infamous HEPA filter that ensures clean air on a flight.

5 At-A-Time: Do you recall the times of people unbuckling their seatbelt as soon as the plane landed so they could rush to grab their luggage from the overhead compartment to quickly exit the plane? Well, those days are gone. People will exit the plane 5 rows at a time and will be prompted by flight attendants when it is their turn.

For more information about the United Clean Plus program and its effort to deliver industry-leading health standards click here.

It’s important to note that things are constantly changing and improving. Because of this, we always recommend referring to the TSA, CDC and your respective airline's website for the most up-to-date information ahead of your trip.

Get the latest health and safety information on STA's TRIPSolutions and COVID-19 here.


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