On July 1, 2020, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) logged 626,516 travelers at their checkpoints. This may sound like a lot, but not when you compare it to the 2,547,889 travelers that passed through a TSA checkpoint exactly one year prior in 2019. COVID-19's enormous impact on our everyday lives does not stop at working from home, avoiding restaurants and bars, and staying 6 feet away from those who are not a part of our immediate household. The pandemic has also impacted travel plans worldwide. Despite the recommendation by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to avoid all non-essential international travel and their warning that travel increases your chance of both contracting and spreading COVID-19, Covid travel is still a reality faced by many. When it comes to the question of if it is safe to fly, there really is no clear answer. It depends on many outlying factors, some of which are uncontrollable. What you can control, however, is how to fly in the safest way possible. From before you book your ticket to after your return, here are our tips on how to fly safely during COVID-19.
Before You Book Your Flight: Recognize and Consider the Risks
Flying Domestic vs Flying International: Which is Safer?
Each country and each state is dealing with COVID-19 in their own way. As a result of this, different countries and states currently have different travel restrictions. Before you even think about buying your flight ticket, it is important that you research the current status of the place you would like to travel to. Many international flights have been cancelled, and at this time the entry into several countries is prohibited by foreign nationals. Although some countries have made the decision to continue to let visitors in, they require a 14-day self-quarantine period immediately upon arrival. As mentioned above, however, the CDC recommends avoiding all non-essential travel. On a domestic level, some states require out-of-state visitors to complete a 14-day self-quarantine upon arrival depending on which state they are coming from. If the full self-quarantine period is not met, violators can face hefty fines. It is important to keep these new regulations in mind when making COVID travel plans. When it comes to the flight itself, there are several factors to always consider, regardless of whether you will be traveling domestically or internationally. Some of these factors include seat spacing, cleanliness of the airplane, flight time, and safety protocols being taken by the airline. It is important to do research before selecting an airline and flight.
Risk of Traveling for the Immunocompromised
Certain parts of the population are more at-risk of contracting illness and therefore are more likely to contract COVID-19 while traveling. Immune systems weaken with age, putting the elderly at a higher risk. Similarly, those who are immunocompromised are more at risk of catching disease. People with underlying illnesses such as cancer or HIV, and those who have had immune-system weakening procedures such as an organ transplant, fall into this category. If you are, or have been told you may be immunocompromised, check with your doctor and make sure it is safe for you to travel before you book any reservations.
Different Safety Protocols for Different Airlines
It is important to do your research before choosing which airline to fly in order to choose the one that makes you feel the safest. Although airlines are, for the most part, all reacting to COVID-19 by following the recommendations of the CDC, each airline has implemented their own safety policies. Specifics such as type of cleaning procedure and frequency vary by airlines, but it is important to note that the majority of major airlines have dramatically increased the disinfecting of their planes, now doing so thoroughly in-between each flight. Some airlines, such as Southwest and Delta, are blocking off some middle seats or restricting the number of passengers onboard in order to allow their passengers to social distance. Many airlines have also put a hold on food and beverage services, and some are even offering passengers hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
Travel Prepared: What to Bring
In order to minimize your risk of contracting COVID-19 during your trip, it is important to arrive prepared. One essential item to make sure to pack is disinfecting wipes. These can be used to wipe down any surface you come in contact with, in the airport and on the plane. Especially when it comes to surfaces that are unavoidable, disinfectant wipes are important in the prevention of illness contraction. The next sanitizing essential is not a physical item, but is too important to not include on this list. Washing your hands is a simple yet very effective way to prevent the spread and contraction of germs. Hands should be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds before eating, after using the restroom, and when hands are visibly soiled, according to the CDC. After you finish washing, use your hand sanitizer, another sanitizing essential, to clean any spots on your hands you may have missed. Make sure you do not forget your alcohol based (at least 60%) hand sanitizer, as this is an easy and effective way to keep your hands clean when you don’t have access to soap and water. Currently, TSA is allowing each passenger to bring one 12-oz bottle of hand sanitizer in their carry-on luggage. This will need to be screened separately however, so be prepared to remove your hand sanitizer from your baggage, and make sure you bring a zip lock bag to put it in to eliminate the bottle’s contact with potentially dirty surfaces.
Tools to Minimize the Spreading of Germs
Although both airports and airplanes now have more regular and thorough cleaning protocols, there are still some items you can bring to minimize your risk of contracting or spreading any germs while traveling. Several large airlines such as Delta, Jet Blue, and American Airlines have begun conducting temperature checks of each passenger and crew member, and turning away those with a fever; a temperature of 100.4°F or higher. Although it is possible to not have a fever but still have COVID-19, temperature checking is a good strategy to identify anyone who is showing this common COVID-19 symptom. Bringing your own thermometer allows you to check your temperature whenever you feel necessary throughout your trip. If you do have a fever, you will need to postpone your travel plans and should contact your healthcare provider. Additionally, bring plastic bags to store items in that you will touch frequently throughout your travels, such as your phone and passport, in order to minimize the potentially dirty surfaces that these items touch. Once you depart the airport at your destination, dispose of these bags, and place the items in clean bags for your trip home. Also remember to place your personal items inside your bag instead of the provided TSA bins while going through security, as this will minimize the surfaces that your belongings touch as well. When packing, remember to bring enough of your medication for the entire trip to avoid running out. Packing your own food and snacks, as well as your own water bottle for your travels can also help you avoid contaminated dining areas in the airport, and keep you full since airlines have cancelled in flight dining services. It is also imperative that you bring a face covering to use at all times while traveling, but more on this below.
Touchless Check in Option
Download your boarding pass and check in on your phone through your airlines app if they have one, rather than having the airline print your boarding pass at the airport. This will minimize your contact with others and allow you to avoid touching a physical boarding pass.
COVID Travel Checklist:
Wash Your Hands!
Download your boarding pass to your phone (or print)
Plastic resealable bags
Your own water bottle
Your own snacks
Safety On Board: Airplane Safety Protocols
As mentioned above, one factor to consider when deciding if you should travel is the length of the flight you are going to take. While it might sound counterproductive, if you are traveling somewhere far away, consider taking connecting flights. Although it may take longer, shorter flights minimize your exposure to other passengers on board, and therefore minimize your risk of contracting illness.
Where Should You Sit?
Despite airlines best efforts to enforce new safety protocols, it is very difficult to maintain 6 feet from others while on an airplane. Doing so would require airlines to run at 66% capacity, but they require an average of 77% capacity to break even financially. This means that complete social distancing is not economically reasonable for the commercial aviation industry. There are some safety precautions you can take when it comes to where you position yourself on an airplane, however. It is safer to sit in First Class than in Economy because the seats are farther apart. Window seats are also safer than aisle seats, as they put you in proximity to less people. Additionally, if you are traveling with someone or with a group, you should sit together.
Airplane Ventilation System
Believe it or not, airplanes have really good air ventilation systems that are comparable to the ventilation systems in hospitals. The air is circulated and filtered in a way that does not allow germs to spread easily. You are most likely not going to catch a virus through the air you’re breathing on an airplane.
Stay Put and Keep Your Hands to Yourself!
Once you’ve boarded the plane and are in your seat, avoid getting up if possible, even to use the restroom. Keep your hands to yourself and try your best not to touch your surroundings. Studies have shown that the tray table is the dirtiest part of an airplane, so definitely avoid using the tray table during your flight. Also use caution when touching air vents, seat front pockets, and, if you must use the restroom, restroom door latches. If it is necessary for you to touch airplane surfaces, wipe the area with a disinfectant wipe first, and then sanitizer your hands after.
Wear Your Mask for the Entire Flight
This is so important that it deserves its own heading. A face covering acts as a simple barrier to prevent respiratory droplets from traveling onto other people while talking, sneezing, or coughing. Not only is a mask currently required to board a flight on most major airlines, they are essential when it comes to preventing the contraction and spreading of COVID-19. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 2 wears a mask while in public and around people who are not members of their immediate household, especially when unable to maintain social distancing. This means that a face covering should be worn over your nose and mouth the entire time you are in the airport and on the airplane, even in the bathroom. At Medivico, we understand and value the importance of a quality face covering, especially during your travels. Our single use, 3-layer masks are the perfect solution to keep you safe and comfortable throughout your entire trip.
Post Travel Actions to Take
Upon returning to the US from International travel, you will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. This includes taking your temperature twice a day to monitor a fever, watching for other common COVID-19 symptoms, remaining at home, and keeping your distance from others. When returning from domestic travel, you will have to follow the guidelines specific to your state, which may mean a 14-day self-isolation. It is important that you follow these guidelines closely in order to ensure that you did not contract COVID-19 while traveling.
Amidst this global pandemic, whether or not it is safe to fly is completely objective, and the answer to this question depends on a combination of all of the factors mentioned above. At Medivico, we want you to make the decision that is best for you when it comes to Covid travel. We understand that although there are risks, sometimes travel is unavoidable. If you do decide to travel during this time, we hope you consider our recommendations on how to do so as safe as possible.