As the COVID-19 health crisis continues to impact the aviation industry, there is no timetable for when airline operations may approach pre-pandemic levels. At Philadelphia International Airport, flight ops are down about 90 percent from this time a year ago.
Still, people are flying. On May 11, TSA reported it screened 215,645 passengers at airports across the country – its highest since March 25. American Airlines, the largest carrier at PHL, reports that its local passenger numbers are up slightly since April while its schedule has been reduced by 80 percent versus May 2019.
Even though there are considerably less travelers taking to the skies compared to just a couple of months ago, it’s important for those who are flying to remember rules and guidelines remain in place – such as the 2-hour arrival one.
“We see customers showing up at the airport closer to departure time than usual,” said Andrew Trull, American Airlines spokesperson at PHL. “We still encourage customers to arrive around 2 hours before a domestic departure to ensure ample time to clear security and board.”
Travelers coming through PHL should take particular care not to be lulled into thinking they can skirt on the 2-hour lead time. Due to the reduced schedules, TSA has in turn consolidated its operations into 2 checkpoints (Terminals B and D/E), down from the usual six. This means that it may take passengers longer than anticipated to clear security, especially during peak times (Mondays and Thursdays are the busiest), and it may take longer to reach their departure gate if they are flying American Airlines. American flights depart from 5 terminals at PHL. If American passengers are coming through security at Terminal B and their flight departs from a different terminal, they need to make sure they allow enough time to walk to their departure gate; if the flight is leaving from Terminal F they’ll need to take the shuttle from Terminal C to F.
In addition to the 2-hour arrival guideline, travelers should also know their airline’s carry-on bag policies in order to avoid showing up at the security checkpoint with over-size bags. Carry-on bag policies can be found on the airline’s website.
Speaking of carry-on bags, passengers should also know what they can and cannot bring through the TSA checkpoint in order to avoid delays in the screening process. Check https://tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/all or ask @AskTSA via Twitter or Facebook Messenger. Note: The TSA has temporarily modified its rule limiting liquids to allow travelers to bring one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice. Passengers can expect that these containers larger than the standard allowance of 3.4 ounces of liquids permitted through a checkpoint will need to be screened separately, which will add some time to their checkpoint screening experience. That being said, the TSA 3-1-1 liquids rule is still in effect: Each passenger may carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces. Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels and aerosols.
More TSA travel tips can be found here: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips
“TSA officers are remaining vigilant during the pandemic, as they continue to provide robust security while paying attention to the evolving COVID-19 environment,” said a TSA spokesperson. “You’ll see them wearing masks and gloves at the checkpoint and encouraging social distancing whenever possible without compromising security.”
As always, passengers should check with their airline on flight status before coming to the airport.
As a final reminder, effective until the conclusion of the COVID-19 crisis, all passengers and airport personnel are required to wear a face covering the covers the individual’s nose and mouth while on airport premises. Exceptions are granted while eating or drinking. Many airlines including American are now requiring passengers to wear face coverings on board. Note: Travelers are allowed to wear masks during the screening process, but a TSA officer may ask the traveler to adjust the mask to visually confirm their identity during the travel document checking process or if the mask triggers an alarm during the screening process.