Is flying safe during COVID? I don’t have a crystal clear answer for you – it’s more nuanced than that. But I can tell you that there are ways to be safer than not, so I wanted to share my experience with you.
If you follow my blog, you know that travel content is a big part of what I do. Prior to March, I traveled on an airplane at least once a month. This spring alone, I was scheduled to travel to Montreal, San Francisco, Slovenia, and Italy. Going from traveling every month to not traveling at all was quite an adjustment. I turned down some opportunities to travel simply because I didn’t think it was a great decision for myself, my family, or the broader community.
But here’s the thing – I actually still don’t think traveling is the best decision. However, I’ve also gotten to a place with COVID when I question how much to continue to isolate at home but also try to live a somewhat normal life. That’s the challenge right there. Our lives aren’t normal. So do we stay at home, and avoid all unnecessary travel? Or do we resume some sense of normalcy in our lives? This is a question I’m still struggling with.
I have traveled this summer. I did a few road trips, including one to San Diego and one to Lake Arrowhead. Road trips felt a lot more manageable to me because I only drove a couple of hours from my home. We didn’t have to stop anywhere between our home and the hotels so there was limited exposure to other people. Both hotels we stayed at offered a lot of safety protocols during our stay and required mask-wearing at all times, except for at the pool or while eating at the restaurant. Overall, road trips felt pretty safe to me. There is always a risk when you leave your home, but these road trips felt very low risk.
But back to flying. Is flying safe during COVID? The short answer is, it would be safer if you didn’t fly at all. There are certain things about flying that make it nearly impossible to social distance. Plus, there are still a lot more people at the airport and on the plane, in close proximity to you, than if you were to simply stay home.
The longer answer is, there are ways to fly more safely than others. Here are a few tips to help you decide if and how you will fly during COVID.
1. Choose Your Airline Carefully
Some airlines are doing more than others to allow for better social distancing on their flights. For example, I flew on Alaska Airlines. They did not allow me to sit next to anyone, even in first class. In coach, all of the middle seats were open. However, my friend flew American, and they packed the flight. There was no social distancing and the middle seats were also full. All airlines are implementing better cleaning procedures, so that is less of a concern for me. However, the social distancing piece is definitely something to consider when choosing your airline.
2. Consider an Upgraded Seat
I was shocked to learn that first-class tickets to Alaksa were only $200 more than regular coach tickets. Thus, I chose to upgrade to first class for my recent trip to Sitka. I know that not all people have the luxury of paying more for their flights, but if you are able to get a seat with extra legroom or more space, I would highly encourage it. The more space you have, the more socially distanced you will be. I felt pretty secure on the plane. Although there were people in front and behind me, there was no one next to me, so I did have a lot of breathing room.
When considering flying safe during COVID, you also want to consider which seat to choose. I also did some research and found that window seats are a better choice than aisle seats in terms of safety. You are more likely to contract the virus on the aisle simply because more people will pass you than if you’re in the window.
3. Invest in Good Face Coverings
My sweet friend brought me an n95 mask and a face shield to wear on the airplane so I felt extra protected. Honestly, the face shield was a lot to manage. When I breathed, it often fogged up the shield. However, I did try to keep it on as much as I could to ensure the highest level of protection. Masks are required at all times at the airport and on the flight. However, you are allowed to take it off to eat or drink. I would just suggest ensuring you buy a quality mask. Sure, it’s not fun to breathe with a heavy-duty mask for too long, but the ultimate goal is to stay protected, so the annoyance is worth it.
4. Bring Sanitizing Wipes
I brought a pack of sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer with me. When I first sat down, I used a wipe to wipe down the armrests, the window area, the seat in front of me, the tray table, and the seat belt. That way, I could ensure I wasn’t touching other people’s germs. I also used another wipe before I ate or drank anything. I even wiped down the rim of the glass they gave me with my beverage.
5. Pack Your Own Snacks
The airline did provide food and drink, although more limited than normal. Thus, I would suggest you bring some food and drink with you. I always carry a reusable water bottle with me. I also packed some almonds and protein bars so I had healthy snack options since my flight wasn’t direct. Although restaurants were open at both LAX and Seattle’s airports (where my layover was), I didn’t want to deal with one more potential way to come in contact with COVID, so I thought avoiding restaurants was a good call.
6. Schedule COVID Tests
Alaska required me to have a negative COVID test within 72 hours before I arrived. Thus, I was tested just three days before I left and received a negative result. I am getting retested again next week, after 7 days at home, to allow for the optimal incubation period to ensure I am COVID-free. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you could be carrying the virus, so I think it is wise and best for public health to get tested again.
I hope these tips are helpful for flying safe during COVID. Ultimately, the best decision is to stay at home as much as possible. However, if you are going to travel, I hope these tips will help.