What you need to know before flying this summer

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 7/2/2020, midnight
If cabin fever is killing you, it’s understandable. The last four months felt like eight. A change of scenery is ...
Airplane/airport Pixels

If cabin fever is killing you, it’s understandable. The last four months felt like eight. A change of scenery is long overdue. Summer arrived and the thought of jetting somewhere, anywhere, seems far better than yet another Netflix binge.

No doubt, this is likely not the summer for a fling to a far-flung place, even if they would let Americans in. However, flying domestically, or perhaps to the Caribbean or Mexico, where many cities are opening their borders, you could take a much-needed vacay.

You’re tempted. Are you ready to fly during the pandemic? A recent survey by Azurite Consulting of 3,500 people found that 30% of domestic travelers will wait until a vaccine is available to fly and 36% of international flyers will not fly globally again until a vaccine is available. Those stats aren’t surprising. The fear of contacting the coronavirus, be it on an airplane or in the airport, is real. American Airlines just announced it is no longer blocking the purchase of middle seats—will other airlines follow? You already know flying is going to be different. How different? The experts weigh in on what to expect.

The view from the cockpit

Patrick Smith, an airline pilot and the host of www.askthepilot.com, offers some comforting news: “Airlines have put greatly enhanced cabin cleaning protocols in place. Planes are already much cleaner than passengers realize—particularly with respect to air circulation—and these measures should help reduce the risks of contracting COVID to statistically insignificant levels.”

One big negative, however, he says, has been a reduction in onboard service and perks. “Drink services, meals, and so forth, have been greatly scaled back or discontinued altogether. This is likely to continue through most of the summer, varying from carrier to carrier,” he says.

Messages from the medical field

Dr. Leann Poston, a doctor with Invigor Medical, shares tips. “First, as with all decisions, evaluate whether the risks outweigh the benefits. If they don’t, you are ready to go!”

What’s her plan for safe air travel? Get a small bottle of hand sanitizer that is compliant with TSA screening. Use this on the plane, not before. Put disinfecting wipes in a plastic Ziploc bag to also carry on the plane. Secondly, bring a set of clothes in the carry-on bag to change into when you get off the plane.

“In the airport try to touch as few surfaces as possible. After you get through security wash your hands. Try to maintain social distancing, wear a mask, and don’t touch your face,” she says.

Once aboard, whip out disinfecting wipes to clean the surfaces you will touch. When finished use hand sanitizer. Immediately after deplaning, wash your hands. Poston advises changing your clothes and then rewashing your hands. Get your luggage, wipe it down, and wash your hands before leaving the airport. Another tip, hand sanitizer and washing your hands is a better choice than wearing gloves.

Dr. Ralph E. Holsworth, D.O. director of clinical and scientific research at Essentia Water, isn’t keen on flying this summer, but if you do, he recommends increasing liposomal Vitamin D3 supplementation up to 10,000 IUs prior to your flight. Frequent nasal saline flushes prior, during and immediately after departing the flight will also help. “Virus and bacteria colonize in the sinuses at least three days prior to dropping into the lungs and creating infections but flushing or rinsing the nasal/sinus cavities ensure the viral/bacteria content is decreased,” he says. Proper hand hygiene and facial washing after inadvertent touching of the face will also help.

Frequent travelers’ tales

Lea Korinth has taken multiple flights over the last few months. She’s not trying to influence anyone’s decision to fly or not, or to postulate whether it’s safe to fly, but to merely share her experience. She is head of operations for Jubel, a tech platform to plan and book tailor-made experiential trips.

“It’s a little tricky to generalize ‘air travel’ right now, but for me it has been nothing but a pleasant experience. I took domestic flights within New Zealand, a trans-Atlantic flight between New Zealand and the United States, multiple U.S. domestic flights, multiple flights between the U.S. and Mexico and domestically within Mexico over the past five weeks. Alaskan Airlines, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Delta have all released statements that they will be operating at reduced capacity until the end of August/September. What does that mean? The seat next to you is free! For someone like me, who normally flies on a weekly basis domestically and internationally, this is bliss.”

She was surprised to see how carefully airlines are operating. “Passengers are required to wear masks on-board, and airline crew wear masks at all times. I’ve seen them wearing face shields on Volaris, Interjet and AeroMexico. Service on the plane is limited, most airlines are no longer offering alcoholic beverages (which I think is positive). Other than this, airline travel really is quite nice nowadays. Fewer people, shorter queues, empty gates. More caution, more information, and more forms to fill out though!”

Maya Erdmann, a travel expert with LiveYourTravel.com, says to avoid getting up from your seat to stretch your legs and avoid the lavatories, if at all possible. Keep as much distance from others as possible. Bring entertainment. “The entertainment screen is likely full of impurities from other travelers,” she says. Use the air vent for better air circulation. “Some travelers may not keep their distance. If you feel unsafe, contact a flight attendant.”

If you don’t wear your mask, you run the risk of being taken off of the flight, says travel advisor Adrienne Sasson. If you’re noncompliant during the flight you could be banned from future flights.

She highlights airport procedures. “You can still use the kiosks to check in. If you are like me, you will want to wipe down the buttons before starting and then wipe your hands when finished.”

Some domestic airports are doing active screening for arriving international flights. This can include temperature checks and additional questions as to where you traveled, if you currently have or have had symptoms of COVID or have been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID. “Passengers arriving from domestic airports are not actively screened as carefully, but if one looks unwell, they can be stopped and interviewed,” says Sasson.

If you are flying internationally you may have delays in exiting the arrival airport as you go through screenings, she says. The screenings may include temperature checks, questionnaires, and short interviews. Some destinations are taking COVID rapid tests upon arrival, to be paid by the passenger. You may be told to quarantine for 72 hours at your hotel or host home until the tests return. If you are found positive, you will need to quarantine as per the regulations of the destination, at your own expense.

In most airports you’ll see reminders to wear your mask and find hand sanitizing stations everywhere. At TSA checkpoints you’ll be asked to handle your ID/passport and boarding pass. Some have elected to put their IDs and boarding pass in plastic baggies to avoid germs. Though the airlines are doing their best to disinfect and sanitize the aircraft, you may still want to bring your own wipes for your seat and tray area.

Says Erdmann, “Read the signs for the TSA scanning area as some of the rules may have changed as to what items need to be removed from your carry-ons and handbags. Most importantly, bring your patience with you. Lines may move a little more slowly as protocols are being followed.”