How to fly safely: Travel tips to stay healthy while flying
Flying is – and may be for a very long time – one of the riskier activities for one’s health considering the COVID-19 pandemic and the virus’s ability to spread. In an airport or airplane, you can’t distance, you are with hundreds of strangers in an enclosed space for longer periods, and no matter what airlines mandate regarding masks, there will always be a few non-compliant passengers.
Bottom line, what can you do to fly safely if you have to fly? I did fly in July 2020 because of some business. Although I was going to a safe state (Maine), and I live in a rural non-hotspot in California, and I was staying mostly outdoors and out of populated areas, the flight is what freaked me out. I knew American Airlines was not blocking seats or limiting capacity, so I thought long and hard about how to minimize the risks to my health on the airplane and at the airport.
Here are some coronavirus health tips including what I did, what I learned, what the experts recommend, and what I will do whenever I need to fly again.
Booking and pre-departure
Consider if you must fly. We all miss travel, but it is time to consider if you should be getting on a plane. Will you need a COVID-19 test? Will you need to quarantine? Do you have family members who may be at-risk? The CDC has questions you should ask before you travel. And where you live and where you are going will also be a consideration prior to your decision.
Choose your airline carefully. Read news reports and ratings, consider the airline’s safety and health protocols, including booking, seating and sanitation. Try downloading the Pilota extension for Chrome that will give star ratings to different flights when you search in Google flights. I was forced to fly American since it was about the only sane choice to my destination – and I would at this point avoid it in the future, if possible, to be able to fly more safely.
Choose your seat carefully. These days, your seat choice may not resemble your past choice in seats since to stay healthy you want to minimize contact and distance as much as possible. If you can upgrade to at least a premium level of economy, do it. If you can upgrade to first class, do that. Why? You will likely have more choice, more room, fewer people around you, and a less busy bathroom without waiting lines. I had selected a window bulkhead seat in a premium economy section but with my status I was upgraded to first class, still managing to nab a bulkhead. Wherever you are, strive for a bulkhead window if at all possible.
Check seating often prior to departure. Use the power of the web to look at your flight seat map frequently, changing your seat around as needed. If you have some status or take an upgrade, immediately check the pre-assigned seat and move yourself. I did that from an aisle to a window bulkhead the day my upgrade came through.
Download your airline’s app and select mobile boarding passes. You will then not need to handle paper or have others handle it then give it back to you.
Packing to stay healthy while flying
All of the expert’s recommendations for coronavirus health tips on airplanes and airports mean you will be packing a little differently than before. What to take with you? Here’s what I had:
>>Sanitizing and disinfecting material: Wipes, sprays and hand gel are a must. I used a 70% alcohol spray to douse all areas of the seat I would touch and the seat itself, as well as the air vents, buttons, window shades, and table. Be sure to follow manufacturer instructions on how to use it and how long to let it dry. I also had wipes for just-in-case mid-flight use, AND I had a small bottle of hand sanitizing gel in a pant pocket for quick slathers at any other time. You will need to think about waterproof bags to keep all that extra stuff from leaking, though. One we like is the Nite Ize RunOff series of bags and cases of all sizes.
>>Additional protective bits and pieces: Tissues, zipper bags, pens, short straws. Tissues were practical for touching any knobs or handles you may not have sanitized to fly safely. Zipper bags came in handy for tossing your ID into after somebody else had handled it at security or check-in or carrying a wet wipe for a few minutes. Pens in case you have to sign a credit card receipt for food. And a short straw was great to limit how much you need to remove your mask to sip some beverage to help you stay healthy.
>>Snacks and water: Many airlines are still limited food and beverage services – or offering none – to ensure passengers keep on their masks. But you may need nibbles, as I did for my early morning flight. Small items are easier to nibble more quickly than a sandwich or other meal, I found in my quest to fly safely. Also, take water! My new Hydrapak collapsible bottle is small and light when rolled up but can be easily filled once past security.
Coronavirus avoidance tips at the airport and on the plane
Keep tissues, pens, a zipper baggie, and hand sanitizer in your pocket (in a liquids bag for going through security, however) as you take care of check-in, check any luggage, or move through security. Use your sanitizing wipes without hesitation – agents understand the concern. Note, that the TSA is allowing larger bottles of hand sanitizer at this time. Stay tuned on possible changes, though.
Avoid touching surfaces or your face. Use an object like a pen or tissue-wrapped finger to touch elevator buttons or other surfaces. Open doors with an elbow or pull your sleeve over your hand. Use touchless payments, if possible (If not, whip out your own pen!) Wipe down utensils from take-out or on the plane if they aren’t plastic wrapped. We have been wiping, sanitizing, and avoiding surfaces for years, but now even more so.
Place items from your pockets into a carry-on before security to avoid bins, according to TSA flying safety recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Wash your hands. As often as possible, so several times in the airport is a must – after checking in, after security, prior to boarding.
Use the bathroom prior to boarding. If your flight is short enough, try to use the airport bathroom prior to boarding – several times if you must. That will allow you to fly safely by avoiding the tiny cramped space on the plane and all those common surfaces. My flight was long enough at 4-5 hours that it really wasn’t possible, so as soon as the seatbelt light went out, I was up racing to the bathroom for my one visit before others had been there. (P.S. Then wash your hands yet again and use hand sanitizer too!)
Staying healthy while boarding, on the airplane and upon arrival
Try to stay distanced while waiting and during boarding. Not always possible, I know, but do the best you can. You may find yourself doing the two-step tango a few times, backing away from clueless wonders who jam your space.
Board back to front? Some airlines have changed boarding to back-to-front to minimize dozens of people walking past each other. If your airline is not, do the best you can. If you know are you are toward the front of the plane, wait until later in the boarding process.
Wipe, clean, sanitize and spray your seat area BEFORE sitting down. Once you are on the plane, before you put anything on the seat, fetch out your spray and wipes and “start the ritual” as my seatmate called it on one of my flights.
Consider changing seats. Most airlines are allowing passengers to move about if another seat for more distance, so look around as soon as all have boarded and make your move, if needed. Of course, that means you’ll have to wipe and sanitize again….
Stay seated as much as possible and avoid touching surfaces. How to fly safely with the coronavirus means cleaning your space then trying to stay there, as we have always recommended, but now more than ever.
Keep your mask on! Try to keep your face covering on at all times, other than your furtive sips and nibbles. It’s not very comfortable, true, but it’s what’s required now, and it shows respect for others. Many airlines now are not allowing so-called medical exemptions either.
Deplane smartly if you want to fly safely
Now that you have arrived, you may have to go to the bathroom, have a raging hunger or thirst, or are just dying to get out of the airport to remove your mask. Wait. Although some airlines, as when I flew on American, are not mandating orderly front-to-back deplaning, try to avoid jamming aisles and getting up close and personal with your fellow passengers.
And once in the airport, passengers don’t have free rein to remove a mask; they are required there, too. And don’t forget to wipe down your luggage and immediately wash your airplane clothing once at your final destination.
After reading all this, do you really want to fly? If you do, prepare to guard your health as if you were going to war with germs, because in many ways, you are. No doubt that whenever we all can start traveling regularly again, many of the precautions above will be the norm and not the exception if you want to stay healthy while flying.