How to Minimize Risk When Flying During COVID-19

Prep     by Rita Tarnate     Nov 23, 2020     4 min read

Woman wearing face mask on plane

Nothing about 2020 has been normal, and the holidays are no exception. In a typical year, we’d be worried about cheap holiday airfare and figuring out Santa logistics. But with coronavirus cases on the rise and the pandemic at its worst, we’re having harder conversations and wondering if we should even be traveling this holiday.

Traveling increases the chances of getting and spreading the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still maintains that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.”

These choices aren’t easy, and with a lack of consistent government directives, the decision of what to do this holiday season falls on each individual or family.

If you do decide to fly for the holidays, it’s important to start thinking about harm-reduction strategies. Here are nine tips for mitigating risk when flying during COVID-19.

Check Local Restrictions

Cities and states across the country have begun to impose restrictions on both residents and travelers. In addition to following virus rates at your destination, keep tabs on local mandates in case you need to make changes to your travel plans.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) created a helpful, interactive map. It shows the various restrictions such as stay-at-home advisories, limited gathering sizes, mandatory self-quarantines, and even fines.

Create Ground Rules

No matter how many travel precautions you take, your family is still at the mercy of the decisions you make upon arrival and the behaviors of those around you.

Avoid uncomfortable situations by being on the same page. Before you gather, talk to everyone involved and decide on a few ground rules you can all agree to. Here are some ideas:

  • Self-quarantine before seeing each other.
  • Limit attendance to a set list of those who have agreed to the rules in advance (no unannounced guests).
  • Wear masks except when eating (socially-distanced) and sleeping.
  • Stay outdoors if the weather permits it.

Research Your Airline

A recent study found that airplanes may be less risky than going to the grocery store. With strict guidelines, additional cleaning procedures, and HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters on almost all aircrafts, flying is safer than you think.

However, only a few airlines continue to block off middle seats. Airlines that were previously booking at lower capacity may no longer be doing so. If you want the extra distancing, do your homework and choose carefully.

Avoid Peak Travel Times

Even though airplanes pose less risk for getting COVID-19, there’s no safe time to travel during a pandemic. The uptick in travelers during the holidays makes the risk even higher.

This year, flexibility is more important than ever. Consider early morning or red-eye flights, flying a few days to a week before and after the holiday, or flying on the holiday itself (airfare will also be cheaper).

If a packed plane makes you uncomfortable, you may be able to change your flight to an emptier one at no extra cost. Check your airline’s policy and watch the seating chart to see if your flight starts to fill up.

Quarantine

Having everyone who’s visiting quarantine before seeing each other reduces risk but, there’s still a possibility of being exposed to the virus while in transit.

It’s best to self-quarantine after your trip as well. In some states, this may even be mandatory. Give yourself time to monitor symptoms and avoid possibly exposing others like nannies, school, or work. If this isn’t possible for your family, you may want to reconsider your holiday travel plans.

Pack Extra Food

Many airport restaurants are closed, and most airlines have not yet resumed food and beverage services. At best, airlines may provide individual bags containing a light snack and a small bottle of water.

Parents know that a fed baby is a happy baby. Pack extra snacks for everyone and something more substantial if you’re traveling during mealtimes. You should also bring water bottles that you can refill after security.

Minimize Touchpoints

Besides mask-wearing, staying at least six feet away from others is the best thing you can do to mitigate risk. If you can, avoid public transportation or rideshares and drive yourself to the airport. Otherwise, keep your masks on and wash your hands as soon as possible.

At the airport, avoid unnecessary pit stops and practice social distancing at security, the gate, and when boarding and deplaning.

Airlines offer early boarding for parents with young children, but these are COVID times. Boarding last keeps your family socially distant for as long as possible, especially on full flights where the middle seats are not blocked.

Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize

Coronavirus aside, you probably got used to constant hand-washing and wiping down surfaces when you became a parent. Wash your hands before and after security, and again before and after boarding. Hand-washing is our number one defense against germs, but there are extra precautions you can take when flying.

Pack soap sheets, sanitizing wipes, and of course, hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is currently exempt from the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) 3-1-1 liquids rule. You’re now allowed to bring containers up to 12-ounces in your carry-on.

Airports and airlines are following strict cleaning procedures, but you can never be too sure. Wipe everything down at the gate and on the plane. Grab those wipes and sanitize high-touch surfaces like seat belts, armrests, air nozzles, tv screens, trays, headrests, and the seats themselves.

Mask Up

These days, no one leaves home without a mask. Quadruple-check your bags to make sure everyone in your travel party has a mask – airlines will not let you board without one. Pack enough masks for the entire trip, opt for surgical-grade masks, like N95, that offer maximum protection, and ditch vented ones as most airlines have banned them.

Major U.S. airlines require anyone over the age of 2 to wear a mask. Practice mask-wearing with your tot before the flight. If you’re having trouble getting them to wear one, you should consider alternate travel plans or stay at home.

For additional protection, block droplets from getting into your eyes. Double up with a face shield, glasses (blue light glasses and sunglasses count!), or goggles.

We all have to be creative and flexible in how we spend the holidays this year. What is your family doing to stay safe and healthy?

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