- JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines have taken similar approaches in returning to normal.
- Both have restored in-flight snack and drink services, board normally, and no longer block middle seats.
- But returning to normal doesn’t mean abandoning health and safety protocols, as I found on recent flights.
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JetBlue primarily serves the East Coast, with its main hub in New York, while Alaska serves the West Coast with its main hub in Seattle.
The two have rebounded quicker than most to pre-pandemic offerings, such as offering in-flight drinks and snacks, we well as normal boarding and seating procedures
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still taking precautions to protect flyers.
I flew on both airlines in March on the way home from Seattle with a quick stop in Los Angeles to see how the two are handling the pandemic a year in.
The first flight of the day was on Alaska from Seattle to Los Angeles, one of the airline’s busiest routes. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was among the busiest I had seen, but Alaska had a good setup of health and safety measures at check-in.
Hand sanitizer stations were scattered throughout the terminal and placed next to check-in kiosks.
Social distancing floor placards guided the path towards check-in desks, which were fitted with plexiglass partitions.
The only downside was that self-serve kiosks weren’t spaced and it seemed like I was right on top of the person checking in next to me.
Ticket in hand, I headed to the gate for the quick flight down the coast. The same setup that I had seen at check-in was also at the gate with more floor placards, plexiglass partitions, and hand sanitizer stations.
So far, I was impressed. Boarding then began and Alaska placards lined the jetway reminding passengers to social distance as they wait.
Alaska doesn’t board from the back of the plane to the front and normal boarding procedures applied. First class boarded first, and so on.
Flight attendants welcomed passengers onboard the aircraft but didn’t offer anything in the way of hand sanitizer or a sanitizing wipe, as others like United and Delta are.
But the aircraft was impeccably clean, so I wasn’t worried. This was also a brand-new Boeing 737 Max that had just been delivered to the airline, so I was expecting it to be clean since it had only flown a handful of flights.
I did notice, however, that first class passengers were given sanitizing wipes at their seats. Economy passengers could request them.
My seat was 28F, a window seat in the back of the plane. And like the rest of the plane, it was spotless.
The tray table had no crumbs or stains whatsoever.
I was feeling very good about this flight and felt even better once boarded ended and my whole row was open. But in the interest of social distancing, a flight attendant put someone in the aisle seat so another row could have an open middle.
Alaska was previously blocking middle seats until January 7, the second-longest of any airline behind Delta. Flights can now be filled to capacity.
A pamphlet in the seat-back outlined Alaska’s onboard health and safety measures, which was a nice peace-of-mind reminder for skeptical passengers.
Flight attendants began the in-flight service shortly after takeoff, starting with a bag of snack mix.
But I was surprised to see the airline offering a choice of soft drink, as well. The cans are miniature but it’s better than nothing.
Flight attendants also distributed Purell wipes, and a reminder to wear a mask in between bites and sips was also printed on the napkin.
The rest of the flight continued uneventfully, with most passengers abiding by the mask rule. I didn’t see any passengers receive Alaska’s dreaded “yellow card.”
Alaska isn’t afraid to ban flyers for not wearing masks and its most recent count is 467 passengers banned, as of April 1.
Finally, we landed in Los Angeles. Alaska did a great job at keeping us safe, from what I saw.
But as we deplaned, passengers all social distancing measures went out the window, despite a reminder to mind our distance from flight attendants after we landed.
After a few hours in Los Angeles, it was time to fly home to New York on JetBlue.
Los Angeles is a hub for JetBlue but the airline doesn’t nearly have as much space as Alaska does in Seattle. There were still plenty of protocols in place for social distancing, including floor placards, plexiglass partitions, and signage reminding travelers to wear masks.
Even the check-in kiosks were staggered and had floor placards with distancing reminders.
There were hand-sanitizing stations by the checked bag drop point.
The gate had similar measures, but no sanitizing stations.
JetBlue had stopped back-to-front boarding earlier in the month, so the normal boarding procedure was followed. The airport had installed social distancing reminders in the jetway, as well.
Flight attendants welcomed us onboard but did not offer any sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer. I later found out that they were available but only on request.
But, as with Alaska, the aircraft was impeccably clean and I wasn’t concerned at all.
This overnight flight to New York was moderately full but empty enough that most aisles had the middle seat open. JetBlue stopped blocking middle seats in October.
My seat was 25A, a window seat towards the back of the plane.
It was spotless and completely free of stains or crumbs, a great sign for the flight ahead.
All JetBlue planes have seat-back entertainment screens, and they’re being put to good use during the pandemic with new messaging on the airline’s health and safety measures.
There was a “dos and don’ts” on what to do when flying JetBlue, including when to wear a mask and when it can be taken off.
And there were reminders not to crowd aisles.
We took off into the Los Angeles night, bound for New York, and flight attendants quickly started the in-flight snack and drink service.
A full selection of full-size soft drinks were on offer…
As well as JetBlue’s famous snacks.
The rest of the flight continued smoothly, and soon enough, it was time to land in New York.
Just like with Alaska, other passengers’ desire to get off the plane was greater than the desire to social distance.
But while walking through Terminal 5, primarily used by JetBlue, I saw more of the airline’s safety features. First, social distancing placards in the jetway…
…and a hand sanitizer station in the gate area…
Automated boarding gates…
And blocked off seats.
It was an impressive setup, on par with Alaska’s in Seattle.