Everything you should and shouldn't do to stay healthy on a plane
After the historic drop in air travel this spring, Americans are steadily flying again — some with mixed reviews.
After flying for work a few times and once to see family in California, Kyle Potter, editor of the Thrifty Traveler, says he's not eager to get back on a plane anytime soon. With every airline carrying out coronavirus precautions differently, "you just don't know what you're going to find," Potter says.
Potter's main takeaway from his recent flying experience has been for travelers to do their homework ahead of a flight, checking to see what rules an airline has in place for blocking middle seats and mask enforcement. Additionally, Potter says that "people should listen to public health experts."
Before booking your flight, know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still says travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19, and that nearly 11,000 people have been exposed to the coronavirus on flights. But according to an October 1 article in JAMA, "the risk of contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) during air travel is lower than from an office building, classroom, supermarket, or commuter train."
"We want to make sure people understand that the risk (of catching coronavirus while traveling) will never be zero," says Syra Madad, who was recently featured in Netflix docuseries "Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak." "But there's ways that you can help reduce or mitigate some of that risk by layering on different types of basic approaches."
Here are some of those approaches you need to know about staying healthy on a plane.
Wear the required PPE
At this time, most airlines are requiring passengers wear masks to fly, a move that health experts applaud.
"Always wear a mask, not just on the plane, but off the plane in the airport, waiting in the lobby areas as well," says Alvin Tran, an assistant professor of public health at the University of New Haven School of Health Sciences in Connecticut.
Travelers can also wear additional personal protective equipment, such as face shields, for extra protection on board.
"We know that COVID-19 spreads by touching your mucous membranes, and your eyes are obviously one part of your mucous membranes," says Madad, noting she doesn't discourage the use of a face shield onboard planes. "It's better to be overprotected than underprotected, especially if you're traveling to an area with high community transmission."
Tran agrees. "If you are comfortable wearing a face shield and you don't think it's going to bother you, then I don't see a reason why you wouldn't want to wear that," he says.
But experts do recommend against travelers wearing hazmat suits during flights.
Maintain good hand hygiene
Washing your hands properly is one of the best ways to protect yourself from spreading diseases. The CDC recommends washing your hands "often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing."
"If I were to travel, I would make sure that I am washing my hands very frequently," Tran says. If you don't have access to soap and water, opt for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Wipe down communal surfaces
Once upon a time, it seemed excessive to wipe down your personal space on an airplane. In the wake of the coronavirus, the practice is now being recommended by health professionals.
Robert Quigley, regional medical director for travel risk mitigation company International SOS, told The Post that "thoroughly wiping down surfaces while traveling is 'always in order,' because many viruses and bacteria can survive on objects."
The CDC is urging people to clean and disinfect frequently used objects and surfaces that you touch with your hands, so bring disinfectant wipes on board if you'll be using an in-flight entertainment system or tray table.
Choose a window seat
Health experts say that the riskiest parts of traveling by plane take place before and after a flight due to crowding. Do your best to maintain social distance from other travelers as you go through airport security, check bags, board the plane, collect your bag at the luggage carousel and leave the airport.
Social distancing onboard will be more difficult, as planes are flying full again, and even if you're taking a flight with middle seats blocked off, you may be within arm's reach of other passengers seated in front or behind you.
Some medical professionals recommend reserving a window seat on a plane to avoid catching an illness in-flight, noting that aisle seats have more access to potentially sick passengers.
Vicki Hertzberg, a professor in Emory University's School of Nursing and the first author on a Boeing-funded study on transmission of respiratory diseases on planes published two years ago, told The Post: "The strategy I take now for flying is: I take a window seat, and I don't get up."
But the World Health Organization has said "research has shown that there is very little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on board an aircraft," thanks to planes' high-efficiency particulate air filters.