Cantwell pushing for federal airline distancing guidelines

Growing push for new federal standards to protect airline passengers from COVID-19

WASHINGTON — Air travel may never be the same again.

In these COVID-19 times, travelers can expect to see more flight attendants handing out sanitizing wipes, lots of signs about staying apart, and people wearing masks.

But when it comes to social distancing on the plane itself, how will airline companies fare? As airlines pack in passengers on the few planes they’re flying, that leaves little chance for safe distancing onboard.

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That concern has caught the attention of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash).

“The flying public needs to feel safe from the COVID-19 pandemic and the federal government needs to take leadership on this issue,” Cantwell said Wednesday.

She highlighted her May 18 letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, which called for “clear, uniform national guidelines based on the best public health information.”

At a Senate hearing earlier this month, the Dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health, Hilary Godwin, testified that regulations for protecting passengers are better coming from the federal government, rather than a patchwork of state health rules.

“As we resume air travel, we must prioritize keeping airports, airplanes and the public safe,” Godwin said.

Meanwhile, airlines are updating their protocols to reflect the new normal.

United announced Wednesday it is working with Clorox and Cleveland Clinic on disinfecting and distancing.

The airline says it will alert passengers if a plane will be 70% full and allow them to take another flight.

Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are blocking middle seats.

United, Alaska, Delta and American Airlines all say they are using an electrostatic sanitizing spray that kills bacteria and viruses.

Delta is capping seating at 60% of the plane, and announced this week that new plexi-glass barriers are coming to airports.

Frontier Airlines helped fuel the drive for federal standards when it announced a fee for an empty middle seat, and then backed off after facing criticism.