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tips on how to fly safe & healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic

tips on how to fly safe & healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Written by Reinier Halbertsma

First tip: don't fly. 

Assuming you absolutely need to fly, here are some practical tips on how to stay safe and healthy in the air. These tips – meticulously compiled from our own flights to New York, those of others in recent weeks, and advice from the CDC, Transport Canada and FAA – help to protect yourself and those you might unknowingly hurt. We’ll try to update these as we learn more about the virus, but we acknowledge that we are still in the beginning stages of learning about transmission and mitigation, especially for air travel. 

Essential tips - and moments when these are hard to follow

  1. Wash your hands – for 20 seconds or more. Where this will be tough: transport to and from the airport, check-in, screening, customs, take-off and landing. The challenge with these moments is that you have to touch things like screening bins, door handles and share your passport etc. with others.
Some tricks:
    • Only use one hand to interact. Put the other clean hand in your pocket and leave it there, until you can wash again (of course wash both).
    • Quarantine your belongings (passports/laptops/boarding passes) that others have touched by putting them in designated pockets in-transit. At your destination, either wipe them down with disinfectant, or let them sit for a few days as viruses can stay on surfaces for multiple days.
    • Sanitizer with >60% alcohol. Be mindful if you’ve picked up the bottle with a ‘dirty’ hand, disinfect your hand and the bottle too when you are done.
    • Pro tips for hand-washing: Sing a song for 20 seconds. Use warm water. Air dry. Use a towel to turn the faucet on/off and to open the door to leave. Let someone else open a door for you – or hold one open for them (preferably with your foot)!
  1. Social distancing – ideally 2m. If traveling to the US or Canada from another country, expect that check-in may be crowded and the most harrowing test of your germaphobe boundaries. Assume your clothes need immediate washing upon arrival. Luckily airplanes and airports in the US and Canada are empty nowadays.
  2. Masks for your coughs / sneezes – These are hard to wear for long flights because your lungs have to work harder to breathe through the resistance. Masks are recommended particularly if you have symptoms, and perhaps to protect yourself. Wash your hands before taking it on/off. Masks can be ineffective with a beard. If there’s no seal...no deal. Masks could become counterproductive for a child as it makes them touch their face more often. If you can’t wear a mask, cough in your elbow.
  3. Don’t touch your face – moments to be mindful of: you may be asked to remove a mask at screening/customs which brings your hands close to your face, or if you become distracted and itch/adjust.
  4. Gloves – this may seem counterintuitive, but CDC doesn't recommend them for the general public, for good reasons: you can still touch a contaminated surface and then your face, whether you have gloves or not. Also, they can leak without you knowing, give the illusion you don’t need to wash hands anymore, and are often taken off improperly, thereby spreading the virus! Similarly using a sleeve, scarf, jacket or pocket as contacts may just spread germs to your clothing and then on to other things when you aren’t thinking about them.

Travel focused tips: keeping out of sticky situations and limiting exposure to bacteria / viruses

We’ve dissected the travel journey from start to finish and made a list of tips to keep you protected as best we can.  

  1. Before you fly - get informed - The CDC documents travel restrictions and transmission levels per country. If you are US citizen abroad, register with STEP to receive alerts from the government about safety conditions in other countries, and repatriation flights. The same applies for Canadians here. Having cell phone service ensures you are reachable!
  2. Stay healthy – before a trip people are often busy and forget to take care of themselves: enough sleep, exercise, a good diet and immune support will give you the best chance to stay healthy through your flight. Dehydration is a risk: humidity levels in cabin are similar to a desert (~15-20%) which dries out mucous membranes in your nose, throat and mouth, making you more vulnerable to infection. Check out our formula combo Flight Packs to holistically support your immune system, fight jet lag, sleep easy and keep you hydrated from take-off to drop-off.
  3. Medical insurance – if you are travelling abroad, now is the time to be extra thoughtful about insuring yourself.
  4. Travel self-sustained – wonderfully, flying 0-waste can keep you healthy and limit your exposure: bring your own water bottle, food, headphones, travel pillow – and virus bubble. Ok, that last one is still in production.
  5. Check-in – online and ahead of time, send the boarding pass to your phone so you can be ‘contact-less’ in the airport. Making sure your baggage is the right size/weight at home can help minimize repacking time on airport floors (the SingaporeAir App lets you assess size using Augmented reality).
  6. Seat selection – some say a window seat is better than an aisle because there is less traffic passing you. This might help, but really, it’s about being far away from a sick person. In general, a plane should have a HEPA air filter designed to filter out viruses like SARS-CoV-2, with air being entirely refreshed every 6 minutes. It’s also good to be aware that ventilation systems can be turned off while airplanes are stationary. Research is still inconclusive as to the spread of disease on planes, primarily because little is known about in-cabin movement. The risk of transmission was low (2%) beyond the 2 rows nearest an infected person (which is a guideline used by contact tracers pre-COVID-19).
  7. Screening – make sure to pack liquids in your carry on in a ziplock so you don’t have to contaminate your bag searching for liquids, keep ‘contaminated’ belongings in a separate place/pocket until you can disinfect them.
  8. Avoid the stores – they’re probably closed
  9. Disinfect your seat bubblestudies have shown that bacteria can survive for up to 5 days, with the dirtiest place on airplanes (pre-COVID-19 extra cleaning measures) are likely to be the tray tables, seat pockets, blankets (which are washed between once a day – or once month!). Pay attention to high contact areas and things such as the in-flight magazines, seat belts, toilets, tv screen and arm rests.
  10. Organize a pick up – some reports are indicating fewer cabs at airports. The faster you can get into your strict 14 day isolation bubble the better!
  11. Flight attendants – our heart goes out to these frontline workers who appear not to always be given the choice to stay home, even while awaiting test results. Give them a smile and thumbs up as they brave the risks with you, knowing that they also have to travel to (and sometimes stay in) outbreak hotspots.

Traveling during a pandemic is unchartered territory, it helps to feel prepared and have an idea of what to expect. If you have updated tips for our community, we’d love to hear from you! Safe travels.