We’re all aware that when traveling by air, following certain safety precautions can help the flight run smoothly and reduce the risk of danger. While flight crews are extremely well-versed in security procedures, not all aviation rules make sense to passengers. Besides, how many of us can say that we’re paying attention during those pre-flight safety briefings?

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread globally, forcing airlines to adjust their policies and routines. Many carriers have experienced a severe decline in passenger numbers due to severe coronavirus travel restrictions. A decrease in air travel isn’t an entirely new development. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there was a marked decline in passengers amid security fears. But the current crisis marks an unprecedented time for air travel, and it will take the air transport industry several years to recover.

The effects of 9/11 also had a huge impact on air travel security. Manpower and technology in airports were increased and new procedures implemented, including removing your shoes during security checks, stricter bag scanning, full-body scans, and a ban on large liquids in carry-on luggage to name just a few. Since the onset of the pandemic, further security measures have been enforced to limit the spread of the virus and ensure passenger safety. One such area that will be impacted by the ‘new normal’ is the boarding process.

But as countries begin to lessen parameters and we look forward to international aviation with fewer restrictions, can we even remember what to do when boarding a plane? Here, AeroTime examines four new and existing safety measures and why they’re so important.

Wear a mask (and be polite to airline staff)

From heading to the local supermarket to boarding public transport, mask wearing is commonplace. While the worldwide vaccination rate increases, it's still mandatory to wear a mask when flying.

But airlines across the globe are reporting incidents where some passengers just don’t seem to understand its importance. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines have filed more than 1,300 reports of unruly passengers since February 2021. This is a stark increase from previous years. Similarly, a report from the Netherlands’ Aviation Incidents Analysis Bureau (ABL) has identified a “sharp increase in the number of nuisance incidents” on commercial aircraft, with around 60% of those incidents involving passengers who refuse to comply with COVID-19 safety protocol.

But don’t expect mask wearing to disappear any time soon. With the UK government suggesting that ‘extra safeguards’ such as masks and social distancing will be needed even after the majority of restrictions are lifted in June 2021, and public health officials in the US advising that mask wearing won’t vanish completely, it looks like wearing a mask onboard will remain part of the in-flight experience for some time to come.

What to remember: pack a mask and wear it. Oh, and please be polite to cabin crew.

Pay attention when boarding the plane

With the threat of COVID-19 still looming, airlines are reassessing how passengers can best board aircraft. While some airlines temporarily opted for back-to-front plane boarding during the pandemic to cut down on unnecessary close contact between passengers, a recent study, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal on April 28, 2021, found that this method could double your chance of catching the virus. Instead, leaving middle seats free and no longer permitting passengers to stow luggage in overhead compartments, will “significantly” decrease the risk.

The scientists also suggested that pre-COVID-19 boarding processes, where business class boards first, followed by economy class with passengers sorted into various sectors, further decreased the risk of catching the virus by 50%.

What to remember: have your boarding pass ready, pay attention to instructions and listen for when your seat number is called to board the aircraft. Adhere to social distancing regulations and take your seat as soon as possible.

Listen to the safety briefings

There are always far more exciting things to do than listen to the safety demo when you’re waiting for take-off. You’re probably reading the in-flight magazine or checking out what to order from the menu, but it’s essential that you know what to do in the event of an emergency. Although it’s incredibly rare that you’ll need to put these procedures into practice, it’s far better to be prepared.

We’re all familiar with the immortal line ‘the emergency exits are here, here and here’, but do we actually give their location much attention? The answer is probably a resounding ‘no’. So, we need to remember to clock their position before we’re in the air.

It’s also important to listen to the instructions about how to operate safety equipment, including life jackets, oxygen masks, seat belts, harnesses, and floor lighting leading to emergency exits. This information often varies between aircraft, so it’s important to read the card each time you fly, even if you have prior experience with the airline.   

What to remember: pay attention during the safety briefing and familiarize yourself with the information cards. Locate the emergency exits. If you’re seated in the same aisle (this is often seating with extra legroom), then listen to the additional briefing.

And lastly, always fasten your seat belt

While we know the importance of fastening our seat belts during car journeys, not all of us feel the same about buckling up on board aircraft. Many passengers unbuckle as soon as the seat belt sign is turned off. Of course, there are times when passengers need to stretch their legs or visit the toilet. But for the most part, people don’t refasten them when they return. However, this could be a problem if the plane encounters turbulence, which, if strong enough, can result in injury if you’re shaken about.

Pilots do their best to turn on the seat belt sign when they see turbulence coming, but there’s always a chance that the situation can alter without warning.

What to remember: whenever the seat belt sign is on, you should stay seated, buckle up and try not call for the flight attendant. However, if the seat belt sign is off, you should still try to keep it buckled for the duration of the flight.