I flew America’s leading mid-tier airlines, JetBlue and Alaska, and saw some of the best options for pandemic flying

Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways aircraft
Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways aircraft in Los Angeles.

  • 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.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
JetBlue Airways and Alaska Airlines are mid-tier US carriers, sandwiched between the big four – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines – and the ultra-low-cost carriers.

JetBlue Airways Airbus A321
A JetBlue Airways Airbus A321.

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.

Alaska Airlines Airbus A320
An Alaska Airlines Airbus A320.

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

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still taking precautions to protect flyers.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Hand sanitizer stations were scattered throughout the terminal and placed next to check-in kiosks.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

Social distancing floor placards guided the path towards check-in desks, which were fitted with plexiglass partitions.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

So far, I was impressed. Boarding then began and Alaska placards lined the jetway reminding passengers to social distance as they wait.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Read More: I flew on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max weeks before it was grounded again — here’s what it was like

I did notice, however, that first class passengers were given sanitizing wipes at their seats. Economy passengers could request them.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

My seat was 28F, a window seat in the back of the plane. And like the rest of the plane, it was spotless.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

The tray table had no crumbs or stains whatsoever.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Alaska was previously blocking middle seats until January 7, the second-longest of any airline behind Delta. Flights can now be filled to capacity.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Flight attendants began the in-flight service shortly after takeoff, starting with a bag of snack mix.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Flight attendants also distributed Purell wipes, and a reminder to wear a mask in between bites and sips was also printed on the napkin.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

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.”

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Read More: See the yellow card Alaska Airlines will give to passengers who refuse to wear masks on its flights

Alaska isn’t afraid to ban flyers for not wearing masks and its most recent count is 467 passengers banned, as of April 1.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

Finally, we landed in Los Angeles. Alaska did a great job at keeping us safe, from what I saw.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic

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.

Flying on Alaska Airlines during pandemic
Flying on Alaska Airlines during the pandemic.

After a few hours in Los Angeles, it was time to fly home to New York on JetBlue.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

Read More: I visited the newly designed private terminal at LAX and saw why wealthy travelers are spending thousands for a membership

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.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

Even the check-in kiosks were staggered and had floor placards with distancing reminders.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

There were hand-sanitizing stations by the checked bag drop point.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

The gate had similar measures, but no sanitizing stations.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

But, as with Alaska, the aircraft was impeccably clean and I wasn’t concerned at all.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

My seat was 25A, a window seat towards the back of the plane.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

It was spotless and completely free of stains or crumbs, a great sign for the flight ahead.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

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.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

And there were reminders not to crowd aisles.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

We took off into the Los Angeles night, bound for New York, and flight attendants quickly started the in-flight snack and drink service.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

A full selection of full-size soft drinks were on offer…

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

As well as JetBlue’s famous snacks.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

The rest of the flight continued smoothly, and soon enough, it was time to land in New York.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

Just like with Alaska, other passengers’ desire to get off the plane was greater than the desire to social distance.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

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…

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

…and a hand sanitizer station in the gate area…

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

Automated boarding gates…

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

And blocked off seats.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

It was an impressive setup, on par with Alaska’s in Seattle.

Flying on JetBlue Airways during pandemic
Flying on JetBlue Airways during the pandemic.

Read the original article on Business Insider