Wondering whether flying during the coronavirus outbreak is safe? The days around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are some of the busiest travel days in America--even during the coronavirus pandemic. Is flying during coronavirus (COVID-19) a smart choice in 2020? Here’s what the research and health experts suggest regarding coronavirus air travel this holiday season.
Is Flying During the Coronavirus Safe? (Holiday Guide)
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has strongly suggested that Americans stay home for the holidays due to a national spike in COVID-19 cases. Despite these warnings, millions of Americans hopped on planes and in cars to travel home for Thanksgiving. Airport TSA reported screening 1.17 million people on Sunday, November 29, 2020. Though this number is staggering, it’s down from 2.9 million travelers on the same Sunday in 2019--an all-time high.
The Research on Flying During Covid-19
The research around flying during coronavirus is murky. Some studies suggest that the chances of catching COVID-19 on a plane are relatively low thanks to high-efficiency HEPA air filters in planes.
However, experts argue that sitting on a plane is one part of traveling: Other risks involve waiting at the gate, touching entertainment consoles, eating and drinking, collecting baggage, and using the bathroom. Furthermore, a plane’s air supply is not filtered at the same rate when boarding or grounded.
Increasing research shows that social distancing and wearing masks are the most critical measures for slowing the spread of COVID-19--whether you’re flying during the coronavirus or going shopping. In other words, factors such as whether an airline keeps middle seats clear and whether or not people are eating, and therefore not wearing masks, affect one’s risk of contracting COVID-19.
6 Factors that Affect Flying During Coronavirus Safety
- Social distancing: Maintaining a minimum of six feet between people. When it comes to flying during coronavirus safety, airlines should maintain a middle seat between passengers. Also, remember that social distancing is critical during all parts of traveling: waiting in line, boarding, storing luggage, and waiting at your gate.
- Face masks: Wearing masks is shown to diminish the spread of coronavirus significantly. Yes, this means that removing your mask to drink water or eat while in a tight space--such as while traveling during coronavirus--may increase your chance of contracting the virus.
- Commonly-touched surfaces: Coronavirus germs can live days on hard surfaces such as plastic and metal. That means it’s critical to clean and avoid touching handrails, entertainment consoles, bathroom doors, and much more--especially on a tight aircraft.
- Wait times: One study suggests that the more luggage people bring on, the more time people spend waiting and in close contact, increasing the chance of transmission.
- The number of people traveling: The more people you come into contact with, the higher your risk of contracting the virus. During the Christmas holiday season, an average of 23% more people are traveling than usual. By existing in an enclosed space with more people from different communities (with varying transmission rates), the higher the likelihood of contracting COVID-19.
- Most importantly, country-wide rates of COVID-19 transmission affect how likely it is that you contract the virus in any public place--this includes while traveling. In other words, the lower the rates of COVID-19, the safer traveling during coronavirus is for everyone.
Considering Flying During Coronavirus? Consider These 4 Realities
Pandemic fatigue is real: Millions of Americans struggle to adhere to renewed coronavirus lockdown measures after eight months of anxiety and social isolation. Unfortunately, the risk of contracting the virus has never been higher. If you’re considering flying during coronavirus, keep these x realities in mind:
- Between November 23-27, the U.S. averaged 159,000 new cases per day.
- COVID-19 deaths are up 26% in the past 14 days (as of Nov 30).
- COVID-19 hospitalizations are up 36% in the past 14 days (as of Nov 30).
- States with the fastest rising number of cases include North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Alaska, Montana, and Indiana (as of Nov 30).
- In North and South Dakota, coronavirus patients account for 25% of hospital bed capacity. In Montana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska, and New Mexico, theta account for 20% of hospital bed capacity (as of Nov 2020).
Understanding the risks associated with flying during coronavirus means reckoning with the pandemic as a whole: the more people are diagnosed with the virus, the larger the strain on hospital resources and the worst quality of care people in need receive.
7 Tips for Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic
According to health authorities, if you must travel, here are a few things to keep in mind. Keep in mind that the following is not medical advice and was written for informational purposes only.
- Wear your face mask at all times. This includes not eating or drinking, if possible. Removing your face mask to eat may increase your risk of catching the coronavirus, --especially if others have their face coverings removed.
- Minimizing trips to the bathroom. Reducing contact with commonly-touched surfaces such as those in a public restroom may help avoid contracting the disease. This means thorough hand washing and using hand sanitizer when not available.
- Avoid busy travel times: The number of people with whom you come into contact affects the likelihood of contracting the virus. Consider visiting family after the holiday season is over when fewer people are traveling.
- Wear a face shield along with a face mask: Wearing a face shield reduces the chances of contracting covid-19 when flying by providing eye protection. Remember that a face mask is critical, too.
- Quarantine for the recommended amount of time before traveling.
- It is a good idea to clean commonly touched surfaces near your seat. That means the entertainment console, seat belt, armrests, and more.
- Maintain social distancing from everyone at all times: This means while waiting in line, stowing your luggage, and while seated on the plane.
- Consider traveling by car if you can reach your destination in less than a day. If the trip would take longer than a day, flying during coronavirus may be safer during off-season times (not during the holidays).
Understanding the Risks of Flying During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Though spending the holidays without family may seem awful, but the consequences of flying during the busiest time of year may be worse. More than 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with the virus per day. Many states, particularly those in the Midwest, are concerned that hospitals may be unable to cope with the surge in cases from the holiday season. In other words, the risk of flying during coronavirus has never been greater.
Are you considering flying during COVID-19 despite the risks? Make sure you wear your face mask, maintain social distance, clean commonly-touched surfaces, and avoid food and drink if possible.
DISCLAIMER: The above was written for informational purposes only. It is not medical advice. For information regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, see the CDC website and local authorities.