It may be the last thing on your mind but, eventually, you’ll be able to travel again. With some states beginning to relax stay at home orders and many other states hoping to begin a return to normalcy in mid to late May, you may be able to take to the sky sooner than you think. However, many frequent flyers and an even greater number of infrequent flyers may be concerned about their health and safety over the next few months. Being concerned about your health and well-being is entirely warranted and acceptable. Nevertheless, travelers should know that there are ways to avoid contracting SARS-CoV-2 (commonly known as COVID19) as well as other viruses and bacterial infections.
I myself am a hypochondriac. While, in normal circumstances, I try to fly as much as I possibly can, I always take precautions to ensure I stay healthy when I’m out on the road. So, while COVID19 is a new (or novel) virus, many of the precautions I would take before the on-going pandemic are extremely helpful to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. This includes viruses like COVID19. Additionally, we consulted trusted organizations and experts to provide readers with a comprehensive guide to avoid contracting (or unknowingly spreading) COVID19 on their first post-pandemic flights. Here’s how to stay healthy on your next flight.
How COVID19 Spreads From Traveler to Traveler
First and foremost, it’s important to remember how a virus like COVID19 spreads from person to person. With regards to person to person transmission, COVID19 is similar to the seasonal flu and norovirus, or as it’s commonly known, the stomach flu. However, early studies indicate that COVID19 is more infectious than the seasonal flu. COVID19 is, however, roughly as infections as norovirus. Just how infectious is norovirus? Norovirus has a known R0 (r-nought) of 1.6-3.7. This means that, for every person that contracts norovirus, around 2.6 other individuals will contract norovirus as a result. The coronavirus that causes COVID19 is believed to have an r-nought similar to that of norovirus. Compared to the seasonal flu, COVID19 is significantly more infectious.
However, the way in which COVID19 is transmitted from person to person is quite similar to the way in which the flu or the common cold is transmitted. COVID19 is spread when an individual with the virus coughs, sneezes, talks, or breathes. With each breath, cough, or sneeze, an infected individual releases tiny droplets into the air that contain the virus. Should an uninfected person be close enough to someone with COVID19, these droplets can enter the mouth or eyes of the uninfected person. Additionally, the virus that causes COVID19 can survive on surfaces for hours or potentially days. Should you touch a surface contaminated with COVID19 and then touch your face, you may contract the virus. So, while COVID19 is not technically airborne, it is spread via airborne droplets and can survive on surfaces for a significant amount of time. That being said, knowing how COVID19 is transmitted, we are better able to prevent the spread of the virus.
Traveling and COVID19
Ultimately, in the months following the end of mandatory stay-at-home orders, we must continue to act as if the virus is still prevalent and actively being transmitted. This means practicing good hygiene, not touching one’s face, and keeping surfaces clean. But how does one prevent the spread of a virus when traveling? How do we stop the spread of an infectious disease when we’re crammed in an aircraft alongside 150 other passengers? Here are some tips to prevent the spread of a virus when in-flight and while traveling.
Practice Good Hygiene
At this point, good hygiene should be something that’s ingrained into your subconscious. From the CDC to the WHO, proper handwashing combined with social distancing is the best way to stop the spread of COVID19. Even though stay-at-home orders will eventually be lifted, you should continue to practice good hygiene. Good hygiene is especially important when traveling.
What does good hygiene look like when you’re out on the road? First and foremost, wash your hands. Between flights, upon arrival, when using aircraft lavatories––wash your hands. Whenever I’m traveling, I wash my hands as often as I possibly can. It may seem unbelievably simple or even childish to remind adults to wash their hands. However, we often forget just how important it is to keep our hands clean when we’re traveling. Dirty hands spread disease. Washing your hands is the best way to stop the spread of infectious diseases.
As a reminder, the CDC recommends that you scrub your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you find it difficult to accurately count out 20 seconds, singing a song helps. Check out the website “Wash Your Lyrics” to create a handwashing poster featuring your favorite song. Additionally, when washing your hands, remember to wash your palms, the back of your hands, in-between your fingers, and your wrists. If you’re using a public restroom or an aircraft lavatory, be sure to use a paper towel to open and close doors.
If you are unable to access soap and running water, you can get away with using hand sanitizer. Research has shown, however, that soap and water are just as effective if not more effective than hand sanitizer alone. Nevertheless, I always travel with hand sanitizer. Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find hand sanitizer in any quantity. There are ways to make your own hand sanitizer at home. Here’s just one of the many guides available online that walk you through how to make hand sanitizer.
Cover Your Face
While we will eventually be able to travel freely without having to cover our faces, it’s highly recommended and even required in some areas that you keep your face covered when in public. On crowded aircraft, keeping your face covered is especially important. Covering your face protects you from airborne droplets and protects those around you should you be an asymptomatic carrier of an infectious disease.
Ideally, you would have access to face masks. However, medical supplies, including basic surgical masks, are in such high demand that any available product is being sent directly to hospitals and healthcare workers. Nevertheless, you may be able to find basic masks online or in limited quantities at stores like Walgreens or your local grocery store. If you are unable to find a face mask, bandanas or protective gear like that worn by skiers is also adequate. When covering your face, it’s essential to ensure that your mouth and nose are sufficiently covered.
Distance Yourself as Much as Possible
Initially, this won’t be all that difficult to do. For a month or two following the end of stay-at-home orders, airports and flights will remain quite empty. This means that you should be able to continue the practice of social distancing while you travel through an airport. Moreso, you may be able to practice social distancing while on-board. However, social distancing will become more challenging as more and more travelers return to the skies.
In a few months, as COVID19 continues to remain a concern, be sure to distance yourself as much as possible when traveling. Look for empty seats on aircraft and give yourself plenty of room when moving around crowded airports.
For the next few months, I advise against using tray tables or the seatback pockets on-board aircraft. These surfaces are notoriously dirty and often neglected by cleaning crews. Should you have to use a tray table or the seatback pocket, be sure to disinfect these surfaces.
The best way to disinfect these surfaces is to use a Clorox wipe or alcohol-based cleaning solution. If you do not have a disinfectant wipe or travel-sized cleaning solutions, you can also use a paper towel soaked in hand sanitizer to clean hard surfaces. Still, travelers should avoid touching surfaces, including tray-tables, when traveling in the coming months.
Pass On In-Flight Beverage, Snack, or Meal Services
As tempting as they may be, you may want to avoid accepting any snacks or in-flight meals. While high temperatures experienced during preparation and cooking kills nearly every virus and most bacteria, utensils, reusable plates, in-flight china, and service items are still susceptible to carrying a virus, bacteria, and other germs.
Additionally, all in-flight service items are handled by one or more crew members in-flight with several other airline employees handling in-flight service items during transportation to an aircraft. With asymptomatic transmission a serious concern, some airline employees may unknowingly transmit a virus like COVID19. During in-flight services, surfaces and service items may become contaminated with a virus like COVID19. If you are to receive in-flight service items like a soda or snack, be sure that all service items remain wrapped or in their original packaging before receiving an in-flight service item. Upon receiving something like a can of soda or prior to using metal cutlery, be sure to disinfect these items.
This piece of advice may seem somewhat extreme. However, COVID19 is known to survive on surfaces like a soda can or cutlery for several hours, if not days. I recommend bringing your own snacks, beverages, and in-flight meals for the foreseeable future.
Don’t Use In-Flight Blankets, Pillows, or Bedding
Though a number of major airlines claim to be taking precautions that include extensive cleaning procedures, you should avoid using the blankets, pillows, or bedding provided by an airline for the foreseeable future. COVID19 can survive on these surfaces for more than a day.
For the foreseeable future, I recommend bringing your own blanket and pillow when traveling. There are a variety of products online that are ideal for frequent flyers. Use these travel-friendly pillows and blankets in-flight, and be sure to launder them as soon as you reach your destination.
Disinfect Luggage On Arrival, Launder Your Clothes Frequently
Upon arriving at your hotel or back home, be sure to disinfect your luggage. This is a relatively easy task if you travel with hard-shell luggage. With hard-shell luggage, you can use disinfectant wipes or cleaning solutions without having to worry about soaking or damaging your luggage and its contents. When disinfecting hard-shell luggage, be sure to use a liberal amount of whatever disinfectant you chose to use. Allow the disinfectant to sit for 20 to 30 seconds. Then thoroughly wipe down your luggage. Be sure to wipe down any handles, zippers, and wheels.
If you travel with soft-shell luggage or a backpack, use a disinfectant spray like Lysol. I usually complete two rounds with a disinfectant spray before unpacking my backpack and storing it for later use.
We’re often oblivious to just how dirty luggage and carry-on bags become over a single trip. Your luggage touches hundreds of surfaces over the course of a single trip. Many of those surfaces go uncleaned for weeks, if not months. If you do not disinfect your luggage, you may be unknowingly bringing an infectious disease like COVID19 back home or to your hotel.
It’s also important to keep your clothes clean. I tend to designate an outfit or two as my “day-of-travel” outfit. This allows me to keep track of those items of clothing and launder them as soon as I possibly can. Not only will this help to stop the spread of COVID19 but, your fellow travelers will thank you for keeping your clothe clean and free of unwanted smells.
These past few months have been a wake-up call for travelers, airline employees, and the travel industry as a whole. While many travelers will continue to stay at home and avoid traveling altogether, we will eventually see a return to normalcy. Nevertheless, the next few months will present a variety of new challenges, concerns, and worries for travelers. However, there are ways to alleviate these concerns while also fighting the spread of COVID19. Ultimately, it’s up to you and me to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
For more information on COVID-19, visit the Center For Disease Control’s official website.
Featured image by Anna Shvets via Pexels