Use These 6 Tips to Stay Coronavirus-free When Flying

There has been a lot of uncertainty around the continued coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that travel has come to a standstill. Even though we’ve seen over 200,000 flights cancelled in 2020 due to coronavirus, people still find themselves in a position where they have to get on an airplane out of necessity. 

This is exactly why we want to share the top tips for keeping yourself coronavirus-free when flying. But first, we need to understand why you’re at higher risk sitting in a tin can hurtling through the sky at 600 miles per hour (or in other words, relaxing and having a cocktail on your flight). 

Coronavirus is a respiratory disease - but how do those types of diseases spread in general?

If you’ve ever had the urge to sneeze, then quickly covered your mouth with your arm, or avoided someone who had a constant cough or sniffly nose during flu season, then you have the general idea of how respiratory diseases are spread.

When you sneeze, cough, or even talk, saliva droplets become airborne that could be carrying coronavirus from someone who is infected. There’s a possibility that if these droplets land on you and make contact with your hands, then touch your face without practicing hand hygiene, that you will be infected. 

This also applies to surfaces where you might not have seen someone who looks like they might be sick. Let’s use the example of an infected traveler on the flight before yours coughing in their hand, then touching your armrest an hour before you board. This person has transferred active viruses to the surface that you are 100% going to come in contact with. At this point, it would be repeating the same cycle as above - you touch the armrest, you touch your face, and you’re potentially infected. 

Fun fact: Did you know that a sneeze can propel droplets up to 200mph?

What does this mean for an airplane? 

Rarely do you see an airplane with people sitting in their seats for an entire flight, unless there’s some serious turbulence preventing anyone from getting up. Most flights have people moving around the cabin to use the restroom, or to stretch their legs by walking up and down the main aisle. 

The WHO has defined that contact with an infected person on an airplane would be being seated within two rows of each other. But as you can imagine, with the typical movement by people on a plane, that an infected person could easily come in close contact with everyone that’s on board. 

And even now that airlines are more diligent about sanitizing airplanes between flights, there’s always the possibility of missing a small surface after cleaning 200+ seats every time an airplane arrives. This is exactly why we suggest using the following tips to keep yourself coronavirus-free on your next flight. 

coronavirus airplane
Traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Practice Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene is a fancy way of saying wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer. The CDC has some clear instructions and recommendations on how to practice hand hygiene that’s effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus. The two primary methods are to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds after touching public surfaces, going to the restroom and before eating. If you don’t have a sink available to wash your hands, then you’ll want to use hand sanitizer that is greater than 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.

washing hands
Always practice good hand hygiene.

2. Wear A Mask

Wearing a mask is a simple way to prevent the spread of coronavirus because it acts as a barrier for droplets from coughs and sneezes. It’s actually more important for people who are infected with the virus to wear a mask, since it prevents the transmission of infected droplets into the air and onto surfaces. 

There’s also been an increase in countries where wearing masks is required to enter through customs, so you’ll want to make sure you have one to wear during your trip and an extra one packed just in case. 

coronavirus masked traveler
Praciticing wearing a mask is an easy way to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

3. Cover Your Mouth

If you have the need to cough or sneeze, make sure you cover your mouth, but make sure it’s not with your hand! Always cough or sneeze into your elbow or into a paper tissue, and immediately trash the tissue afterwards. You’ll also want to practice the hand hygiene we mentioned above each time after you cough to avoid contaminating any surfaces on the plane. 

elbow cough
Always cough or sneeze into your elbow.

4. Avoid Touching

This goes for being careful about touching almost everything. You’ll want to avoid touching surfaces, and touching your hands to your face. This is the most common way that coronavirus can be spread. Always practice hand hygiene after you touch surfaces and before you touch your face.

coronavirus touching face
It's easy to forget not to touch your face, but you need to be focused on making sure your hands are clean before you do.

5. Practice Social Distancing

You will want to try to keep the 6 foot (2 meter) rule in place while you’re traveling. It’s pretty clear that this can be hard to do when you’re on an airplane with such limited space, but you can always ask your flight attendant if you can change seats to an area that puts you 6 feet apart from other travelers. 

social distancing airplane
Social distancing can be difficult on a plane, but you'll want to try your best to make sure you're not in close contact with others to the best of your ability.

6. Get A Window Seat

A study published in 2018 by the “Fly Health Research Team” concluded that sitting in a window seat greatly reduces your changes of coming in contact with infected passengers. This was due to a combination of a couple of factors: 

  1. Only 43% of window seat passengers got up to move around the airplane, versus 80% of aisle seat passengers
  2. Window seat passengers came into less contact with people traveling down aisles than people in middle and aisle sets, averaging 12 contacts compared to 58 and 64 contacts for passengers in middle and aisle seats. 

Both of these factors lead to a reduced likelihood of coming in contact with an infected person, or even coming in contact with infected surfaces throughout the airplane. So when you select your seat for your next flight, look to see if there's one next to the window.

window seat
At least you will have great views, even if you can't stretch your legs like in an aisle seat.

Should I Consider Delaying My Trip?

Ultimately this will be a personal decision you have to make based on the information that’s available to you and whatever your perceived level of risk for infection is. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to see if you should reconsider traveling:

1. Do you already have a fever or are you exhibiting any of the COVID-19 symptoms?

If the answer is yes, then you should consider getting tested and delaying your travel for at least 14 days until your symptoms have subsided and you're no longer contagious.

2. Are you aged 60+?

If the answer is yes, you might want to re-consider your travel plans. The demographic with the highest number of COVID-19 related complications and deaths has been in people aged 60+, with pre-existing conditions. So it might be worth delaying your trip or getting expanded medical coverage.

3. Do you have any pre-existing conditions?

According to the CDC, there are some defined pre-existing conditions that increase the possibility of complications of a COVID-19 infection. These include asthma, cerebrovascular disease, cystic fibrosis, hypertension, immunocompromised states, neurological conditions (i.e. dementia), liver disease, pregnancy, pulmonary fibrosis, smoking, thalassemia, and diabetes. Additional information can be found on the CDC website.

What if I get sick while I’m abroad?

There are some things you will need to consider since there is a possibility that you might become infected while traveling, even if you take all of the precautions we mentioned in this article. Before you even get to the airport, you’ll want to make sure that you have a travel health insurance policy that provides COVID-19 coverage. You’ll want to double check the policy details to see if there’s any waivers for COVID-19 and confirm that your carrier is providing coverage for sickness or complications related to being infected. 

If you are experiencing symptoms, or do test positive, then you’ll need to quarantine for at least 14 days until you’re no longer contagious. You’ll also need to visit your nearest healthcare provider in the country you’re visiting to get tested for COVID-19. You’ll be able to find a list of approved providers based on your policy to find where you will need to go to get tested. 

This can be alot to digest before you go on your next trip. You can feel free to print this article, or save it to your bookmarks as a reference to come back to before your flight. You can also visit our COVID-19 resource page to get up to date information about the COVID-19 response worldwide and access to resources about the virus. 

Travel Safe. Travel Covered. 

James Beam

James is the co-founder of Covered Traveler, and an avid traveler having visited 30 of the 50 states and multiple countries outside of the U.S. He enjoys traveling to places that are close to the water so he can fish, surf and relax on the beach.

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