Airports, airplanes and traveling in general have changed significantly because of COVID-19 and there is an abundance of media coverage on the changes that can make it confusing and overwhelming. So, we hope to bring some clarity with direct information we received from a client of Abrams Landau who is a security personnel at Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), which is just a few miles down the road from our law firm.
• How busy is it at the airport?
Normally, she would see 80,000 people per day traveling, but now it has decreased to about 3,000. In other words, passenger load is down around 95% at Dulles International Airport—one of the three major airports in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.
Our client works overnight and there have been no flights going out, so she doesn’t see anyone until around 3:30 AM, mainly from passengers with American and Delta airlines. United Airlines first flight isn’t until after 6 AM. During the day there are a few flights, but the number of people traveling is very low, and she figures numbers may start picking up more around September and October.
There has also been a significant decrease in airport, airline and security employees. She guesses around 80% of all the airport employees have either been furloughed or they have what is called “weather and safety” leave, but that is coming to an end very soon.
• Is everyone wearing masks now at the airport?
Surprisingly, she estimates only around 2% of travelers wear masks around the airport. She’s even seen some people come in with full gas masks; however, it is still a surprise that the majority of people are not wearing masks.
It can be tricky for TSA officers and other security personnel at Dulles Airport to do their jobs while also trying to maintain as much social distancing and good hygiene as possible. Travelers often have a hard time hearing TSA agents if they are wearing masks and vice-versa. They also seem to be more cautious and officers sometimes receive pushback from travelers when asked to do more thorough checks. Those who wear masks are asked to take them off as well briefly when when checking to confirm identities.
As of now, security personnel and TSA officers are not required to wear masks but they are provided masks. She doesn’t find them to be very beneficial though as they are the looser dental masks. They have to change gloves every time they have to touch another person and there are hand sanitizers everywhere, but they empty out very quickly. There is a cleaning regimen and 90% isopropyl alcohol available for employees. They have had employees show up as positive for COVID-19 though so there are still a lot of unknowns. (UPDATE (5/29/2020): As of May 18, all employees, tenants and contractors at Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport are required to wear masks. In addition, all passengers and visitors are required to wear masks at the two airports after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam mandated that protective face coverings be worn in public spaces starting May 29, 2020).
• Is everyone social distancing at the airport?
General public for the most part appears to be social distancing. TSA officers and other security personnel try their best to maintain social distancing but it is more difficult because their space has become more limited. For instance, there would normally be four checkpoints for security, but it has gone down to one.
• Who is still traveling?
It’s hard to tell exactly what types of people are still traveling and for what reasons, but it is clear that there is a sharp decline in business travel. There are no more Senators, news anchors, etc. and so it seems like it is mainly just general travelers going through now.
There are some international flights during the day, some flights may return soon, such as Central American airlines like Avianca, and some flights are not planning on returning at all possibly.
• Are there any changes to help protect travelers?
Dulles Airport is constantly being cleaned and they have people stationed in each bathroom in the entire airport so that whenever someone uses it, they can go clean it right away.
As mentioned earlier, TSA officers are required to change gloves every time they touch someone, there are plenty of hand sanitizers and there is a stricter and more frequent cleaning regimen in place. As of now, airport employees are not required to wear masks but that could change in the near future.
• Any suggestions or tips for people wanting or having to travel at this time?
If people want to travel, bring your own gloves, hand sanitizer and wear masks. Clean your cellphones and anything you touch after you’ve been through checkpoints, and maintain social distancing.
• How do airport employees feel about going in to work?
Security personnel and Abrams Landau client shared, “Personally, it is scary. I go in everyday and I hope I don’t get in contact with another employee. Experts are saying ‘Yes, there’s going to be a second wave and it’s going to be twice as bad.’ Officers are all on edge. Some take care of elderly parents who are veterans and have children. But people have to fly. It’s a way of life, but I’d like to see more continued social distancing.”
The Abrams Landau Airport Injury Law team advises all travelers to follow the guidelines of the CDC and limit non-essential traveling during this time. The safe and health of all travelers, airport and airline employees and the general public is of the utmost importance. Read the Dulles International Airport Traveler Update on COVID-19 here and our top 5 tips on how to clean your airplane seat and stay healthy while flying. For more information on what to do if there was a safety hazard at work, click here. And click here to read about what happens if you get injured while flying.
If you or someone you know was injured due to no fault of your own while traveling, flying, and/or working in an airport, airplane or on the Air Operations Area (AOA), then please give us a call (703-796-9555) or email us at Abrams Landau, Ltd.