Flying is just not what it used to be. The Covid-19 pandemic has had profound effects even for travelers who rarely experience uncertainty, fear or restlessness when flying. But with vaccinations ahead of time, many travelers are comfortable making spring and summer plans.
Statistics from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) show that pandemic air traffic is already picking up again, and recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that vaccinated people have a low risk of travel. Some research suggesting airplanes are not the coronavirus breeding grounds you might expect could also help fuel the desire to travel by air. A study by the US Department of Defense found that ventilation systems in aircraft efficiently filter air and effectively remove particles that could carry viruses.
But none of this means you should forego protection. At every step of your journey, from arriving at the airport to packing in your hand luggage, you can stay safe, comfortable, and with minimal risk of Covid-19 or other viruses while traveling by air.
“One of the most important things you can do is prepare for preflight because what you do before you fly is just as important as what you do on the plane,” says John Niser, Ph.D., director of the International School of Hotel, Sports and Tourism Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “By completing the TSA PreCheck you can, for example, bypass overcrowded security lines, save time and reduce the number of contact points.”
By accessing boarding passes and updating flight plans via an airline app, contact with TSA and airport employees is also minimized. “Airplane cabins have good air filtration and air circulation, but the airport doesn’t offer the same level of protection,” says travel expert Gary Leff, whose widely read travel blog View From the Wing is one of the most popular in the industry. “I prefer to spend as little time as possible around the airport itself, so any pre-screening that makes this quicker and easier is great.”
Minimizing waiting times at the front and back of your trip is key. Carry-on baggage eliminates the time spent in overcrowded baggage carousels – just make sure it’s small and light enough that you don’t need any assistance when it needs to go into the aircraft’s overhead locker.
“Most airlines recommend that you bring the smallest possible hand luggage with you, as flight attendants are no longer allowed to touch your luggage,” says Dr. Niser. “This is especially important for older people who may need help once they are on board.”
American Tourister 4 Kix Softside Luggage Carrier
If your flight is long or you have a layover, you may want to grab a snack or sandwich as many airport restaurants are not yet open or underutilized. Packing your own groceries also reduces the time it takes to order in close proximity to other people. Collapsible storage bins are great for keeping food fresh without taking up space.
Bed bath and beyond
Prepworks Foldable Storage Trays with Lids, set of 3
Masks still have to fly on all airlines, but most people only bring one with them when traveling. “In reality, you should pack about four or five and swap them out every four hours,” says Leff. Breathability is important, but for maximum safety, double up or use an N-95 mask that healthcare workers rely on for protection. “N-95 masks are no longer rare and also no longer that expensive. Find one that fits and wear it properly over your nose and mouth, ”explains Leff.
SupplyAid KN95 protective masks, pack of 5
It is also important to wash your hands – a lot. But if you can’t, disinfectant is a decent alternative. Look for one that contains at least 60% alcohol as it is the best at killing germs and viruses.
However, if you decide between washing your hands in the airplane bathroom and using a disinfectant, go for the latter. “Staying in your seat minimizes contact with people on the plane,” says Dr. Niser. “Plus, the skin dries out during air travel, so if you can find a disinfectant that also contains moisturizing ingredients, it’s even better.”
Purell Naturals hand sanitizer
Although airlines claim to thoroughly clean their planes between flights, experts think it’s a good idea to wipe the armrest, tray table, and your general seating area the first time you board. Alcohol wipes are perfect for this. Check the labels and choose one that kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.
Clorox disinfectant wipes, pack of 3
Most travelers have to recharge their phones at some point, but public charging stations not only make you more vulnerable to hacking and malware, but you also have to stand or sit around other travelers who also use chargers. A portable charger ensures that you can juice your phone safely. If you travel frequently, you should choose a charge capacity of at least 10,000 mAh. If you take a short direct flight, a charger with an output of less than 5,000 mAh will work.
Anker PowerCore Slim 10000 Ultra-Slim portable charger
If there’s one surface that you’re likely to touch the most during a flight, it’s your phone. “It ends up in a number of places that you probably won’t even notice,” says Dr. Niser. “That’s because your phone is like your home base when you travel.” A portable UV disinfectant can keep it clean. Research shows that UV light can kill everything from bacteria and fungi to viruses. However, more research is needed to confirm if this includes Covid-19.
Still, many experts say there is no reason to believe that UV light will kill all but one virus. They believe the benefits are worth it, especially when it comes to constantly dirty surfaces like your phone. “UV light can really get into corners and edges and is 99% more effective than wipes,” says Dr. Niser.
PhoneSoap is a unique phone disinfectant that uses UV light to kill 99.9% of the bacteria on your phone. It works like a mini solarium for your smartphone.
Editor’s Note: It is not yet known whether or not UV disinfectants and UV-C can kill Covid-19 and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has issued an opinion confirming this. They also find that direct contact with UV-C or looking into the light can lead to injury. The above UV disinfectants have lids with a locking mechanism, or the light will only be activated when the cover is confirmed to be closed. The full FDA recommendation can be found here and more analysis from CNN Business can be found here.
PhoneSoap Smartphone UV disinfectant
When it’s time to retire, you’ll want a good pair of headphones or earphones. Some airlines offer these, but they may not be as hygienic as bringing a comfortable couple from home, according to Dr. Nabeel Chaudhary from Manhattan Specialty Care. Larger over-the-ear options go via the ear loops of your mask, and small buds can jump right in avoiding contact with any part of the mask.
If you want to watch movies on the backrest screen, bring headphones that plug into the screen, as no airline (yet) offers Bluetooth technology. If you have a bluetooth headset that you prefer, you can use an adapter to plug into the audio jack so you can stay wireless.
Anker Soundcore Life Q20
Twelve South AirFly Pro wireless transceivers
UrBeats wired headphones
While a neck pillow won’t protect you from Covid-19, it can help you support yourself and minimize the chances of getting scary close to your seatmates. “Choose one with a removable, washable cover,” says Dr. Niser. Once you reach your goal, toss it in the laundry just in case.
Cloudz Memory Foam Travel Neck Pillow