In September, Jenny Crabtree, the Regional CRM Lead at Flight Centre Travel Group, took a trip from New York's LaGuardia airport to Washington DC to explore the cleaning standards at LaGuardia Airport and the initiatives underway by American Airlines and Lyft to promote traveler safety. Read on for her first-hand account on her experiences below.
I chose to take a Lyft to the airport to see what the experience would be like in comparison with taking public transport on the way back. The driver had a mask on for the whole journey. I asked him if Lyft has given them any guidelines or help to protect them from COVID-19. He said they were allowed to buy plastic barrier to put between the driver and passenger side of the car, then expense this on Lyft. Other than that they were told that masks must be worn by both customer and driver.
AA and SAM apps; (hands free)
I used the SAM app to book my Lyft. The app works great in that it pulls up my itinerary and pre-populated the Lyft app for me. During the journey, I opened the Lyft app itself and it has a new feature for real-time feedback (usually this is after the trip). It allowed me to add if I was happy with the safety and cleanliness of the ride. While looking at Sam, I realized that I did not have my frequent flyer attached to my booking, so during my ride I opened the AA app and asked them to add this in for me. They replied and sorted it in seconds (amazing!) When I was checking in to retrieve my boarding pass they have the cleaning procedures pop up on the app to show what they are doing to maintain safety.
The driver's car was spotless. He wore his mask the whole time, and had extra sanitizer in the back should I have wanted to clean my hands or wipe down the seat. He also kept the windows open for me since I asked when I got into the car.
LaGuardia International Airport
My overall takeaway from the new AA terminal is that it is really clean. There is a lot of space in the terminal, which is partly to do with the lack of crowds at the moment. I appreciated that there were at least two hand sanitizers within eyesight of every area of the airport. I checked in on my app but also went to the self-check-in counters to see the process of a paper ticket.
You can see in the picture that all of the desk are much more separated out. There was also a large group of cleaners on each station that were cleaning the screens and area after each person’s use. All of the stations also had wipes for before and after you touched the screen. There were also a large number of staff (all wearing masks) that would come over and help you check-in.
The option of a normal counter check-in was also available.
I have TSA pre-check, however both lines were really short. Security is probably the hardest part to keep a social distance. I can scan my boarding pass handsfree but I still had to hand over my ID. This was one of the few places in the whole airport I did not see hand sanitizer, plus you need to be in close proximity to the security agent.
Scanning the bags was a really simple process, everyone kept their distance and had markers to stand on. Once through there were large spaces if you need to re-pack, along with hand sanitizer stations.
The new terminal is really light and open. There are many staff onsite to help you navigate the new system. It appears to have about 50% of the shops and restaurants opened, however, it was not made clear if this was due to COVID-19 or that there are still a few areas under construction.
American Airlines Lounge
There was a strict list policy to enter the lounge, so only a few people could check in at a time, which I saw as a good thing. The whole check-in process was contactless. When you arrive the staff were sat behind plexi-glass safety screens, you just had to scan your phone or paper ticket on the scanner and they would assign you a member of staff to help you get seated. The member of the concierge team then greeted themselves and handed you the AA picnic bag. From here, they had a few very spaced out areas for you to sit. The member of the concierge would take you to your seat to ensure that you did not accidentally sit in a location that had not yet been sanitized after the last person's use.
Everywhere had hand sanitizer stations and everything was completely contactless where possible. Once you had left the area, a member of staff immediately came over to clean down the seat, and they really took this seriously.
The week I was in the lounge was the last week that the NYC lounge could not actively have a food service. This was due to an NYC state law, which has now been updated. At check-in they would give you almost a ‘packed lunch’ of pre made and cleanly parcel snacks, which you could enjoy in the lounge or take with you on the flight. You were able to use the tea and coffee facilities. You also have the option to download the airport app ‘at your gate’, where you can pre order from any of the participating airport restaurants, and the food is then delivered to either the lounge or your flight. This was a great service that I think the airport should have advertised more as there are no lines and you pay on your phone).
Overall, the super friendly, happy, enthusiastic staff made the visit to the lounge worth it.
American Airlines Flight
The main difference with the boarding procedure is that all of the boarding lines have the clean marks to stand on to space people out, which follows all the way down to boarding of the actual plane. People do seem to adhere to this.
Either phone or paper ticket is scanned so completely hands-free.
On the Flight
The staff greet you and hand each person a sealed wipe to use on the seats or for your hands after putting your luggage in the overhead. All of the seats themselves have the belts crossed to indicate they have been cleaned and then checked. The safety demo is done with the staff remaining at the front, other than that, there were no changes in this procedure. One thing to note for AA is that there is no middle seat blocked, I sat next to another passenger on both flights.
There is no food currently served, however I was able to get a glass of water, which came with more anti-bacterial wipes. You are allowed to bring your own food onto the flight instead. You are no longer allowed to leave anything in the back of the seats, however, the staff do collect the trash from everyone frequently.
The AA App
The AA app now has an airport map to help you navigate through your arrival airport quicker and allows you to find useful points such as specific resultant locations and what the walk time is from your gate.
Overall, they take their cleaning process very seriously, the staff on the flight were incredibly helpful and seemed genuinely pleased to have people flying with them.
Leaving the Airport & Public Transit
There is a fun new quirk of the new LGA terminal, which is that the balloon sculptures show you the way to the exit. They look like someone has lost their balloons in the ceiling until you realize that it is also showing you the way out. Very whimsical, more airports should think out of the box like this (there are the normal exit signs as well of course).
When exiting security there is an area you must stop in if you are from a quarantining state. There are both written forms you can fill or you can do this via the app for the contact tracing. When we walked through there was no one looking after this area. This could have been as they knew our flight was not a quarantine zone but I'm not sure.
When walking through to find the public transport, I did notice that the new LGA terminal has some stunning artwork placed throughout. The signs for the public transport were clearly marked, however it was not clear that you needed a bus transfer before you got the subway. The metro tickets did not have a contactless option, but luckily there were hand sanitizer stations nearby. The bus itself was not as clean, but people did seem to be sitting far apart, and there were safety videos and signs all over the bus. The metro station was easy to navigate, although again it was not contactless to enter. The train itself was a lot cleaner than I had seen pre-COVID.
Overall, this would still not be my first option. There is no direct subway link and unless you know what you are doing it would be really hard to navigate as a first-time user, or even with luggage.
"I appreciated seeing what American Airlines were doing in terms of COVID-19 protocol. The staff on the flight were probably the most friendly and kind people I've flown with. I felt like they were genuinely excited to have people on board. This was my first trip since March and I was excited to be traveling once again!"
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