What Airlines Are Doing to Make Flying Better, Safer, and More Fun in 2021

Illustration representing new travel protocols being put in place by airlines for travelers

"The policies airlines have put in place are helping people feel better about flying," says Paul Tumpowsky, an aviation expert on T+L's Travel Advisory Board and the CEO of Skylark.

Here's a look at a few of the big changes that could improve your future flights.

Change fees are history.

Four of the biggest U.S. carriers have scrapped annoying change fees on many tickets, giving fliers the flexibility they once found only with Southwest Airlines, which never charged extra if your travel dates moved. Alaska, American, Delta, and United all say the charges — which sometimes amounted to hundreds of dollars — are gone for the foreseeable future.

Long-haul carriers are keeping it clean.

Qatar Airways has mandated masks and face shields for passengers and crew. Turkish Airlines similarly requires masks, and each of its flights has a designated Hygiene Expert: a crew member responsible for disinfecting bathrooms and ensuring passengers and attendants are compliant with personal protective equipment (PPE) regulations. Emirates, which shuttered its onboard bars and in-flight showers last spring, has reopened those premium-class amenities — with social-distancing rules, of course. And Singapore Airlines has relaunched its 18-hour flights between New York City and Singapore; each passenger gets a PPE kit for the trip.

Airports are making testing accessible.

Wellness brand XpresSpa has paused chair massages and manicures and is conducting rapid molecular tests for the coronavirus at its Boston Logan, JFK, and Newark Liberty locations, with more to come. Other big airports have partnered with airlines to give passengers the option of taking pre-departure rapid tests: Dallas–Fort Worth and American have teamed up, as have San Francisco and United. Smaller airports are taking action, too: Vermont's Burlington International now offers fliers a choice of on-site antigen or PCR tests.

A version of this story first appeared in the January 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline What's New for Fliers This Year.

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