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COVID-19 brought travel to a temporary halt in 2020. Now, people are starting to move about the country and even the globe a bit more. But there are still some safety concerns around air travel. Is it possible to fly safely during COVID-19?

While no activity is completely risk-free, there are ways to minimize your risk during the pandemic. In this article, we’ve put together three checklists to help you stay safer when traveling during these COVID times.

Safe Travel During COVID: Things To Remember Before You Go

Whether you’re planning a vacation, a family visit, or a business trip, you want to keep yourself and others as safe as possible. Before you book a flight, here are some tips to reduce your risk:

  • If possible, consider driving to your destination. You’ll be exposed to a lot fewer risks – especially if you bring your own food or opt for takeout or drive-through food on the way. For tips on a safe car trip, see this article from the Cleveland Clinic.
  • If you’re older, have higher-risk health factors, or are immune-compromised, seriously consider either delaying your trip or driving to your destination. If you live with someone who’s at higher risk, you should take the same precautions – even if they are not traveling with you.
  • Get vaccinated. You should wait two weeks after getting your last dose to travel, as this will allow your body time to build up antibodies against the virus. While a vaccine may not prevent you from catching COVID-19, evidence suggests that vaccinated people usually have a milder case.
  • Stay home if you don’t feel well, are waiting for your test results, have been exposed to COVID-19 in the past two weeks, or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 – even if you’re not showing any symptoms. You may want to consider purchasing travel insurance to refund any expenses if you have to cancel your trip.

COVID-19 Travel Essentials: What To Buy?

With international travel picking back up again, it’s easy to forget the risks of COVID-19 are still prevalent. While the most severe limitations have gone, travellers should still take all the necessary precautions.

Travel preparations should include stocking up on all of the gear that has become essential during the pandemic. Namely, masks, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and other personal protection supplies - and make sure you have spares if you don’t want to run out. Although it’s fair to say everyone is well-versed in face masks by now, there are plenty of options out there with different qualities that make them most appropriate for close contact with other people (for instance, in a plane or crowded bus). We take you through some of the main options in this guide

You can also buy travel kits that will include what you need, mainly masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and isopropyl alcohol spray for disinfecting surfaces. Some people may also want to invest in extra travel accessories such as tray covers for airplanes and portable chargers to reduce the amount of contact with communal items - though regular hand washing and sanitizing should prevent the risks associated with these!

Where Is The ‘Safest’ Vacation Destination During COVID?

Different areas have different restrictions and travel requirements. The best thing you can do to ensure your safety is stay informed and ensure you’re prepared to meet regulations (with masks, hand sanitizers, testing etc). Find out if your destination is experiencing significant or rising levels of COVID-19 cases. If it is, you may consider postponing your trip - this also holds true if you yourself live in a COVID-19 hotspot.

Check out what local recommendations and guidelines are in force in your destination and prepare yourself to follow them. Look for the state or local health department’s website for this information – e.g. if you’re traveling to Michigan, you’d look up the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services website and click on the COVID-19 link. You could also search the state name and “covid travel restrictions” or “covid information”: e.g. “Utah covid travel restrictions” or “Idaho covid information”. The site you’re looking for will probably have a .gov extension (e.g. coronavirus.idaho.gov).

When it comes to travelling, direct and short flights tend to be the safest option; long-haul flights or those with multiple layovers are, naturally, the highest risks.

If you’re traveling internationally, check the State Department website for general information and specific guidance. Make sure you can enter your destination country; some may require proof of vaccination, recent negative test results, or other paperwork.

Reducing COVID-19 Risks at the Airport

The airport itself is a high-risk place; because of security measures, boarding lines, and limited available space, you’ll likely be stuck in a crowded, enclosed area for at least a few hours. And, honestly, there are only a few things you can do about that:

  • If possible, stay at least 6 feet away from others and avoid crowds.
  • Consider double-masking if you’re in close contact with others – even if you’ve been vaccinated.
  • Clean surfaces (doorknobs, handles, faucets, etc.) with a wipe or hand sanitizer before you touch them.
  • Try not to touch your face, eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often.

At the Airport or On a Plane, Masking Up Is Not Optional

Unless you meet a very narrow exception requirement, it’s a federal law to wear a mask whenever you’re on public transport, including an airplane. The following text is taken directly from the CDC order:

“Conveyance operators [i.e. airlines] must continue to require all people onboard to wear masks when boarding and disembarking, and for the duration of travel, unless they are located in outdoor areas of the conveyance (if such outdoor areas exist on the conveyance). Operators of transportation hubs [i.e. airports] must require all persons to wear a mask when entering or while located in the indoor premises of a transportation hub.

“All passengers on public conveyances (e.g., airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares) traveling into, within, or out of the United States (including U.S. territories) as well as conveyance operators (e.g. crew, drivers, conductors, and other workers involved in the operation of conveyances), regardless of their vaccination status, are required to wear a mask over their nose and mouth.

“All people, including workers and members of the public, regardless of their vaccination status, are required to wear a mask while entering or when located in the indoor areas of transportation hubs (e.g. airports, bus or ferry terminals, train or subway stations, seaports, ports of entry) in the United States and U.S. territories.”

Read the full CDC order here.

Protecting Yourself from COVID-19 During Your Flight

Once again, you’ll be in an enclosed area with limited control over who is sitting next to you – and whether they’re taking any COVID-19 safety measures.

  • Wear a mask during your flight and consider double-masking if those around you do not.
  • Wash your hands frequently; if that’s not possible, use hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Wipe down high-touch surfaces (trays, armrests, seatbelts, buttons, door handles, etc.) with disinfecting spray or wipes.
  • Don’t touch things unnecessarily.
  • Stay hydrated. Not only will drinking water help you avoid the side effects of dehydration – which are nasty in themselves – it can help your body keep its natural defenses strong. Seasoned flyers recommend using a nasal spray or gel to keep your nasal passages hydrated as well.
  • Encourage others in your travel group to maintain hygienic practices.

How Airlines Reduce COVID-19 Risks

Airlines have been using high-quality HEPA filters and air circulation techniques to clean and filter the air. Once COVID-19 struck, they also started giving planes a thorough cleaning between flights, even using an electrostatic disinfectant on high-touch areas. Some airlines use adjusted seating plans that provide more space between passengers; others give passengers sanitizing wipes as they board the plane.

Flying Safely During COVID Is All About Precautions

When you return home from your flight, you should self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. We’re all looking forward to living life without the threat of COVID-19 – and all the additional precautions that come along with trying to stay safe while flying during a pandemic. In the meantime, we can minimize our risk by taking these precautions seriously. Happy and safe travels!