Things That Matter

You’ll Want To Stay At Home After Finding Out What It’s Really Like To Fly During A Pandemic

There’s no denying that being locked up in our homes – sometimes with extended family – with little to do has many of us itching for a vacation from all of this madness. It seems like everyday we’re hit with another dose of bad news or some other worrying detail about the 2020 election, Coronavirus, police brutality – of course we want to get away.

But right now is not the time to be heading to the airport for that flight to some distant (or even not so distant) destination.

Experts agree that flying and spending time in airports is one of the riskiest things you can do during the Coronavirus pandemic. Sure, many airlines and airports say they’re taking extraordinary measures to protect travelers but several news reports and viral videos have shown that isn’t always true.

Air travel is considered a high-risk activity when it comes to the Coronavirus pandemic – and here’s why.

Air travel means spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which puts you into close contact with other people. As travel slowly recovers, planes are becoming more crowded, which means you will likely sit close to other people, often for hours, which raises your risk.

But if you can’t wait until a vaccine arrives to travel by air, you should understand the risks and know that there are measures you can take to stay safe. Flying is risky for several reasons, but the main concern is being in close proximity to other people from all over the country or the world. 

One of the best ways to protect yourself (besides wearing a mask) is social distancing. And when it comes to flying, the reality is that it’s almost impossible to truly socially distance on a plane. Even if the flight you are on is not completely booked, the chances that you will encounter someone — either a fellow passenger or flight attendants — within six feet of you is very high. You will likely also encounter people within six feet while getting through airport security and boarding a plane.

Once on a plane, most viruses and other germs don’t spread easily because of the way air circulates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Airlines also say they are focusing on sanitizing the hard surfaces that passengers commonly touch.

Airlines say they’re adjusting their policies to accommodate social distancing but that isn’t always the case.

Several major U.S airlines (including Alaska, Delta, and JetBlue) have said that they’re blocking middle seats or limiting capacity. Other airlines (such as American) were doing that but have since started booking flights to capacity to make up losses revenues. But even if every middle seat is empty you will likely be closer than the recommended distance of 6 feet to another passenger now that planes are getting fuller.

Once you’re onboard, many airlines have completely eliminated food and beverage service, since it can be a vector for spreading the virus.

And although all U.S. airlines now officially require ‘appropriate face coverings’ while onboard, not all are enforcing this rule equally. And what’s to keep an anti-masker from taking off their mask mid-flight? Is an airline really going to reroute an entire aircraft wit hundreds of passengers for an emergency landing to kick off a passenger who refuses to use a mask?

Enforcement on airlines is much different than their official policies.

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Recent travel stories and viral videos have shown the stark difference between official airlines policies and actual flying conditions. For example, travelers have reported that flights on United are suppose to notify travelers if the flight will be full but they show up to the airport only to then discover that they’ll be elbow to elbow with fellow travelers. That’s not good to say the least.

Airlines have increased sanitation and cleaning protocols with deeper and more frequent cleanings. Major airlines affiliated with Airlines for America saidthey are meeting or exceeding CDC guidelines for cleaning and sanitation. Many planes are utilizing High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to ensure the air flow is filtered and circulated as much as possible. Still, you should remain vigilant about hand hygiene on board, and bring your own disinfectant wipes so you can wipe down your seat and tray when you board. 

Most experts agree that plane travel – unless absolutely necessary – is a big no no right now.

Credit: Jeffrey Groeneweg / Getty Images

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, Gerardo Chowell, an epidemiologist, said “No vacation this year at all. There’s no point, and being an expert and trying to advise the public, we are not taking any vacation. It’s a very simple summer for us this year. We’re grateful we have some green areas around our house here in Decatur, Georgia, and we go out for walks almost every day. But that’s it. We’re not going anywhere because the risk is very real, now more than ever.

Meanwhile, Susan Kline, a professor of medicine, told Buzzfeed News that she is “not very comfortable getting on a plane still. My biggest concern is once you’re on a plane with a large number people, usually it’s in tight quarters and you’re all sharing the air, so I do think that’s the highest-risk situation: indoor spaces with a relatively large number of people in a relatively small space, plus add in you’re often sitting very close to people and you can’t control who you sit next to and you have no idea if they have any symptoms.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com