As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on and on, the need (or want) to fly to your destination may be becoming more and more likely for you.
There's no getting around the fact that any upcoming air travel will bring you into close contact with many other people and a variety of commonly touched surfaces — both in the airport and on the plane. And with what we know about COVID-19 — such as the fact that someone can be sick and not even know it — getting on an airplane can be pretty nerve-wracking these days.
If you're fully vaccinated, you're more protected from COVID-19, which provides some flexibility in regard to what you can feel safe doing again. However, you'll still need to take precautions, such as wearing a mask and keeping your distance, during your travel.
If you're not vaccinated, you will certainly need to take extra precautions while considering and booking your travel, as well as while in the airport and on your flight.
If you're flying during COVID-19, here are five ways to make it a little safer:
Make safe choices when booking your flight
Reducing your COVID risk when flying starts with the decisions you make while booking your flight — such as avoiding layovers and choosing a relatively close destination (if your air travel is for pleasure).
It's also a good idea to check the airline's website for information about the safety measures being taken at terminals and on airplanes. Questions you'll want answered before booking with a particular airline include:
- Are you requiring mask-wearing?
- How are you ensuring that social distancing is maintained?
- Are there online or contact-free check-in options?
- What are your cleaning protocols?
Most airlines have implemented impressive safety measures onboard their aircraft, such as plexiglass dividers between aisles and keeping middle seats vacant. In addition, the sophisticated systems used to circulate and filter air in a plane's cabin prevent most viruses from spreading easily during a flight, according to the CDC.
Wear your mask throughout your travel (seriously, we mean it)
Most airlines require that you wear a mask while in the airport and on the aircraft right now. But there are exceptions to this rule, such as when you're eating or drinking.
Sure, you could "sip on your cup of water" maskless your whole flight, but...just don't.
Wearing your mask not only protects you from catching COVID-19, it prevents you from spreading the virus to other people if you're ill and don't know it — which is especially important if you're not yet vaccinated. While you may not have severe symptoms, someone else on your flight could be at high risk for developing severe complications while ill with COVID-19.
It's best to think of wearing a mask as a social contract between you and everyone else on your flight — whether you're vaccinated or not. During a pandemic, it's not only required in the airport and on your flight, wearing a mask is simply the right thing to do.
Carry hand sanitizer and avoid touching your face
Airports and airplanes are full of commonly touched surfaces. Airlines are trying to cut down on the number of things customers need to touch, via contactless check-in and other measures, but there will always be door handles, luggage bins, escalator banisters and that bag of chips you're eating that someone before you already picked up and put down...
Hand hygiene is always important. But its importance increases as your exposure to frequently touched surfaces increases. To help keep your hands virus-free, consider carrying hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) and apply it after touching common surfaces.
In addition, avoid touching your face. Yes, we know this is hard, but it's important. The new coronavirus can't make you sick via your skin. But it can make you sick if there are viral particles on your hands and you touch one of the mucous membranes on your face, such as your mouth, nose or eyelids.
Lastly, and as always, wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom. (Related: Why COVID-19 Should Make You Rethink Your Bathroom Etiquette)
Spread out in the airport terminal
On the plane, you can't really do anything about the fact that you're in close quarters. However, it should be fairly easy to keep your distance while you're in the terminal.
Avoid the "it's all a risk" mentality, and use the time between the security line and boarding your flight as your best opportunity to reduce how many risks you encounter on your travel day.
While waiting to board your plane, keep six feet of distance between yourself and others as often as possible — even if that means sitting at a less crowded gate until just before your flight. And, keep in mind, six feet may be farther than you think.
Reconsider your travel if community spread is high where you live or where you're headed
No one wants to have to cancel his or her travel, especially if it's a trip to visit family you haven't seen in a while or a vacation you've been putting off since the pandemic began. Unfortunately, this virus doesn't care about your travel plans.
Before traveling, it's important to consider whether COVID-19 is spreading easily where you live or where you're traveling to. If it is, it may be time to rethink your travel plans.
Where there's community spread, there's a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19. If the virus is easily spreading at your destination, you could get sick on your trip and bring COVID-19 back to your loved ones — as well as spread it during your travel home. If the virus is easily spreading where you live, you could already be sick and inadvertently spread the virus to people during your travel or at your destination.
While COVID-19 vaccines keep you well-protected from this virus, we're still learning just how effective these vaccines are:
- At reducing transmission
- Against each of the COVID-19 variants currently circulating
- At protecting people with weakened immune systems