Updated: July 24, 2022
We have now been living with COVID for several years, most people seem to have contracted it at least once, and everyone seems ready to move on. The reality is most people are not wearing masks, even in airplanes. So how can you fly safely? Here are our thoughts:
Travel is Not the Time to Relax
Anecdotally, we hear over and over about people contracting COVID while on vacation. Yet in our opinion, the days leading up to and on your vacation are exactly when you should NOT be relaxing your guard. For one thing, getting COVID in advance of your vacation can mean you have to cancel your plans. Getting COVID on vacation can mean you have to spend your vacation isolating in a hotel. You might need to change your flight home. Worst, you might infect someone else in your travel group, ruining their vacation. So we highly recommend you be more and not less cautious prior to and during your travels.
Flying Is Generally Low Risk
Studies have shown from early on that flying during COVID appears to be much lower risk than you might imagine. Even now that most people are not wearing masks in airports and on airplanes, you can take precautions that keep you safe.
Precautions You Can Take
N95 Mask: The easiest and most effective precaution I take is that I wear an N95 mask in the airport and on board. Studies modeling aerosol dispersion on an aircraft have found this can substantially reduce risk of infection. So even though most people are not wearing masks, wear an N95 mask in the airport and on the plane.
While Seated: Studies have shown that keeping your air nozzle on and pointed down past your face disperses aerosol droplets. I keep this on all flight. I also use a wipe to clean all the surfaces I might touch; this might or might not be necessary but it doesn’t take much time or effort.
Meal and Snack Time: I try to eat before boarding, either at home or in an isolated place in the airport. When I do drink or have a snack on board, I take quick bites or sips and replace my mask. I don’t do this during meal or snack service when everyone else is eating.
Boarding: While on a plane, you are at risk from those seated immediately around you. If they are not infected, your risk is small. While boarding, you are standing in line next to additional passengers who are in line next to you or perhaps seated in the aisle as you are passing, waiting for someone to stow their luggage. It is also true that those highly effective aircraft ventilation systems are not always turned on while a plane is sitting on the tarmac – it depends on the pilot. So the longer you sit on the plane on the tarmac, the greater your risk. My strategy is to be the very last person to board the plane, so that I can hang out at the end of the line while boarding and reduce my exposure to others. Granted if you have a carryon and need to fight for stowage space, this strategy does not work.
At the Airport: The goal is to minimize your time next to people you do not know. I usually sit and wait at a gate that is not being used near my own gate. I definitely don’t eat in airport restaurants or drink in airport bars. I keep my airport mask on. I have had TSA Pre-Check for a number of years now and find it absolutely necessary to reduce wait times going through screening. I also am registered for Clear, which I highly recommend if it is available at your home airport as it essentially eliminates waiting at security.