What does it look like at Sky Harbor Airport amid the COVID-19 pandemic? Are people wearing masks and social distancing?
You can’t predict what you’ll experience on the specific date and time you go nor what you’ll see at your layover or destination airport, but there has been some consistency in what you will likely confront.
REMEMBER: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still advises that the best way to prevent contracting or spreading COVID-19 is to stay at home.
However, there may be a reason you need to travel during the pandemic. So, if you do, here’s a bit about what it looks like behind security so you can plan accordingly.
Traffic hasn’t returned to where it was before the pandemic hit. The Transportation and Security Administration estimates they’re processing about 25,000 passengers daily at Sky Harbor compared to 50,000 they’d typically see.
But, it is far from a ghost town on the other side of security, especially if you have a flight during a busy time like 8-10 a.m. Though it won’t be as busy as years past, the airlines and airport do expect travel to pick up for the holidays.
While you might be surprised by the number of people flying, there seems to be adequate space to distance. For example, when possible, American Airlines is parking its planes every other gate so that there is a larger area for people to spread out while waiting to board. The airlines and TSA all have markers on the ground for distancing.
People still often congregate in front of the boarding gate as they anticipate their groups getting called to board. The airlines are boarding fewer people in each group to give people enough room to socially distance. Avoid congregating by staying in your seat or spacing out a bit until your group is called.
The only people spotted not wearing masks behind security were people who were actively eating and drinking. Expect to see some of the same hiccups you see at the grocery store, for example, with people not wearing them properly over their noses. Overall, people are complying.
While Sky Harbor requires masks and will remind people to do so, there really is no enforcement mechanism for it until the person tries to board the flight. At that point, the airline can ask the person to get off the plane if they refuse to comply.
But a quick word to those of you who might take this as permission to not wear a mask, please don’t. Getting travel back to normal is a group project. Don’t be the jerk in the waiting area, ignoring the rules and spreading your germs to everyone else.
Evidence shows that masks work as a layer of protection to prevent the spread of the virus by keeping those large droplets that could contain the virus off your neighbors as well as some of the smaller droplets. Be kind to others and wear your mask while traveling to keep your germs to yourself. Find a comfortable one that’s easy to wear your entire trip.
If you need a mask, the Federal Emergency Management Agency donated 1.8 million cloth masks to Sky Harbor for distribution to passengers and employees. You’ll find a bin with them just on the other side of security. You can also request one at the Information Counters and find them in the Rental Car Center.
You can also find vending machines where you can purchase masks throughout the terminals.
The airport estimates in both terminals, about half the restaurants and shops have reopened behind security.
Some are taking extra steps to help customers distance. Blanco Taco on the A concourse of Terminal 4 has plexiglass dividers set up between tables and between seats at the bar.
More restaurants are opening as more people travel, but these may have limited hours. Also, many of the airlines have limited what snacks they serve on board so you may want to pack one just in case.
You can bring your own food through security. Solid items can go through without issue. However, TSA advises that “if you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, and it’s larger than 3.4 ounces, then it should go in a checked bag.”
TSA also advises to place food items in a clear bag or container so you can easily remove them from your carry-on bag for screening. You can check if something is allowed through security here.
Yes, but most of them are operating at about half capacity to give people room to socially distance. Know that you might get turned away if they reach capacity.
Again, it is always better to stay home during this pandemic, but if you must travel somewhere by plane, please be mindful of others. Together we can get through this safely. Wear a mask, be patient, and social distance.
Tips to Help Travel Stress Free this Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving travel is usually one of the busiest travel holidays at our Airport and this year, while a little different, will no doubt still be a busy Thanksgiving weekend. If you are planning to travel out of town, here are some tips to keep in mind for a safe and stress-free trip:
- Tip #1 – Use the 44th St. PHX Sky Train® Station to pick-up or drop-off travelers and avoid terminal curb congestion. The 44th St. PHX Sky Train® Station is centrally located and can easily be reached from highways, major streets and the Valley Metro Rail. It features a Cell Phone Waiting Lot and it provides easy access to all airport terminals via the free PHX Sky Train®.
- Tip # 2 – Check your flight status and security checkpoint wait times before arriving at the airport. Flight status can be checked with your airline and security checkpoint wait times are available on the homepage of skyharbor.com and on the flight information displays at the airport once you arrive.
- Tip # 3 – If you’re planning to park at the airport, book your parking ahead of time with Sky Harbor Discount Parking to save time and money. The airport’s parking options provide you with the most convenient access to the terminals. Save money while arriving to the airport in the safety of your own vehicle and avoid the last-minute hassle of figuring out where to park.
- Tip #4 – Be on the lookout for overhead freeway signs. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year on our roadways. The signs will alert you to traffic, accidents and provide alternate routes where possible. Be sure to check www.az511.com for the latest traffic information.
- Tip #5 – Review the TSA requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. It doesn’t hurt to reference the TSA Travel Checklist and see what you can and can’t pack in your suitcase including that turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
- Tip # 6 – Lastly, be sure to give yourself plenty of time. Plan to arrive at least two hours prior to your departure time and be sure to bring a face covering. Travelers are required to wear a face covering inside all airport facilities including the rental car shuttle buses. If you forget your face covering or need other personal protective equipment (PPE), you can purchase one at a PPE vending machine or at a retail store or find masks available outside the security checkpoints.
If you haven’t traveled by air in the past eight months, you can find all the information you need about Sky Harbor’s health and safety measures by visiting the PHX – Here for You page on skyharbor.com. The airport has implemented increased sanitization, including installing UV-C Light technology which constantly cleans escalator handrails. Restrooms provide touch-free handwashing facilities. They have also installed distancing markers and plexiglass barriers throughout our terminals. And face coverings are required throughout all public airport facilities for the safety of all travelers. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also launched a new online resource for travelers to learn how to Fly Healthy during the holiday season. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.