13 Things You May Never See on Airplanes Again After Coronavirus

COVID-19 has made the friendly skies far more frightening. Here's how things are changing.

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Coronavirus has essentially grounded all air travel. With most of the country quarantined, the idea of hopping on a plane, crowded next to strangers whose health status is totally unknown to you, probably seems unthinkable. But some time in the future, air travel is bound to pick back up—though it may look very different. For a sneak peek of what it'll be like to fly after the coronavirus, we consulted current airline policies and examined the most germ-filled spots on planes to assess just how much will change the next time you hit the friendly skies. Here's what will likely be missing from air travel post-pandemic. And for more ways coronavirus is changing our world, check out the 8 Major Ways Disney World Will Look Different After Coronavirus.

1
No more drink refills

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Amid coronavirus, many airlines, like United, have stopped refilling used cups to reduce the chances of a larger water bottle hitting a passenger's potentially contaminated water cup. Expect this to continue for the foreseeable future.

2
No more self-serve snack baskets

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Some airlines offer self-serve snack baskets where passengers can pick from a variety of chips, cookies, and the like. But in order to eliminate the number of touch points on these beloved treats, snack baskets will not likely survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta and American have already eliminated self-serve snack and fruit baskets. Similarly, United has changed how snacks are offered: serving them on a tray instead of letting passengers pick their own, CNN reports. And JetBlue "replaced [its] snack baskets and beverage service with a single snack offering and water." They also added: "The Pantry, our communal grab-and-go snack and beverage area, will not be available on those flights that usually have it." And for more gross spots on a plane, check out These Are the Airplane Germs You Encounter When You Fly.

3
No more occupied middle seats

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When the pandemic took hold, many airlines started following social distancing protocol by blocking off middle seats to allow for more room between passengers. Delta and Alaska Airlines have officially blocked middle seats on flights, while American, Spirit, and United are largely doing the same. Middle seats are likely to continue to be unbookable, even as air travel picks back up.

Unfortunately, this marks the inevitable end to a much more appreciated aspect of air travel: lower fares. "If social distancing is imposed, cheap travel is over," Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), told The Points Guy.

There are also companies, like AvioInteriors, looking to change the way plane seats are configured entirely. Meanwhile, if you're flying China's Air Changan, you can buy eight empty seats with your middle seat—the two in your row, plus the three seats in the row behind you and the three in front of you—to stay safe.

4
No more crowded jetways

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You're likely used to the queue of people congregating around the departure gate in groups, packing themselves like sardines in an attempt to board first and nab that coveted overhead space for their bag. But during the pandemic, airlines like Delta have been calling passengers by row instead of by group, to avoid crowding on the jet bridge and in the aisles. They're also boarding from the back to the front of the plane. Sure, the boarding process might take longer, but this change is one you should anticipate as air travel amps up again. And for more crowded places that'll change post-pandemic, check out the 5 Things You'll Never See at Movie Theaters Again After Coronavirus.

5
No more recycling

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Flight attendants have long had to collect items that have touched the mouths of passengers. But, amid coronavirus, the risk is far higher. Alaska Airlines has therefore suspended recycling on board their flights "to reduce touching passenger-handled materials." And it's entirely possible that other airlines could follow suit.

6
No more trash collection

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Similarly, to prevent flight attendants from touching contaminated food and beverage containers, airlines, like Alaska, are switching to non-touch trash carts that passengers use to dispose of their items themselves.

7
No more paper boarding passes

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Many people have switched to mobile boarding passes these days, but this could become mandatory in the future as it further reduces touch points between airline employees and travelers, especially considering COVID-19 can live on paper for up to 24 hours. "We are encouraging customers to self-scan boarding passes," JetBlue said in a statement. "You can download a mobile boarding pass on the JetBlue app to further reduce touch points."

8
No more blankets

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Don't be fooled by any plastic packaging over those airplane blankets. In 2008, The Wall Street Journal reported that most airlines only clean their blankets every five to 30 days. Additionally, flight attendant Sara Keagle told HuffPost that freshly washed blankets are only supplied to the first flights of the day; after that, they're just folded and re-used. Of course, airplanes don't have laundry machines on board, so expect those filthy blankets to be retired after coronavirus. And for more untouchable parts of your travel experience, These Are the Disgusting Spots You Should Never Touch on a Plane.

9
No more pillows

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It probably won't surprise you that pillows are soon to be a no-go, too. "I worked for Southwest as a flight attendant. Those blankets and pillows? Yeah, those just get refolded and stuffed back in the bins between flights," Reddit user @melhow44 wrote.

It's no wonder that Air Canada, for example, said that for now, amid coronavirus, "pillows and blankets will no longer be available."

10
No more headphones

man looking out window of airplane while wearing headphones
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"Headphones are simply collected, made to look nice, and redistributed," aviation manager Andrew McLeish wrote on Quora in 2017. "There is simply not enough time to… sterilize every headset." American Airlines reported that they are making more of an effort to disinfect headphones and linens during the pandemic, but it's only a matter of time before that becomes too costly and those earbuds are removed from planes entirely.

11
No more warm towels in first class

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One of the perks of flying first class—if you've ever been lucky enough to do so—is the warm towels flight attendants pass out. But amid coronavirus, some airlines have suspended warm towel service, seeing as heat is where germs thrive. "The towels are typically heated using water from the jet's tank, which can be a breeding ground for bacteria," according to The National. We'd be surprised if this custom survives the COVID-19 pandemic.

12
No more meals

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It's been a long time since economy passengers received full meals on domestic flights. But to limit touch points, many airlines, like American, have suspended food-for-purchase options in the main cabin and meal service in first class. And we don't expect that to change anytime soon.

13
No more in-flight magazines

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Sorry crossword lovers, but you'll have to find another in-flight activity to keep you entertained for a few hours. Four of the top five U.S. airlines have postponed if not shuttered their print publications, according to The Points Guy. Delta has laid off a handful of staff writers and removed Sky magazine to streamline the new cleaning process on the planes. Meanwhile, Southwest, Alaska Airlines, and United are skipping their May issues. The silver lining? Many of the carriers are going digital with their content, so travelers can still get their fix of adventure.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
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