Will airlines be able to lure back lost travelers?
Many Americans say they are unlikely to fly even after restrictions are lifted, according to a recent survey. But airlines say they are working to lower the risk of people getting sick while traveling.
The "friendly skies" that United flight attendant Nick Engen knew have turned turbulent. "We're on our way back to Denver," Engen said. "All we're doing is give out water or soda. No cups, no ice."
He's been documenting the new normal of flying for a video blog, including his now standard pre-flight temperature check.
Arriving at Washington Dulles, flyers find a much emptier terminal, fewer kiosks, plexiglass shields, reminders to distance and stepped up cleaning. Online outrage over one crowded flight prompted United to launch a new social distancing policy this week, alerting passengers if they are on a flight with 70% or more of the seats sold. The vast majority are less than half full.
"Everyone has a different sense of what is considered uncomfortable," said Omar Idris, a United employee. "We are inventing a playbook for cleaning and keeping things safe every day. We are learning and innovating every day."
Before boarding, a team of cleaners go row by row wiping down seats, tray tables, knobs -- anything people might touch. Then, the plane is disinfected using an electrostatic fogger also used in hospitals. It sprays a mist that kills viruses and bacteria.
By June, United plans to be doing this fogging between every flight on every plane.
Maintenance managing director Jim Hammer says cabin air is constantly refreshed during flight and run through a hospital grade HEPA filter like that strips out bacteria and viruses.
Linda Bowen and her family are waiting to board a flight to Chicago after her mother passed away. She admits she's a little nervous. "If there was going to be too many people around not practicing the social-distancing, not wearing masks, but I found that most are.
Gone is boarding by group number. Now, flights are boarding back to front. As passengers get on, they are handed sanitizing wipes.
The airlines say they need about 70 percent of the seats full to be profitable. Right now they say they are averaging just 31 passengers per domestic flight but their numbers are trending up.