Flying during Coronavirus: The Risks and How to Reduce Chances of Getting Sick


With summer nearly here and more areas of the country reopening, you might be considering traveling and flying, but what are the risks due to coronavirus/COVID-19 and what can someone do to minimize the chance of infection? 

Is It Even Safe to Travel Right Now?

When it comes to domestic travel in the United States, the CDC notes, "Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. Before you travel, learn if coronavirus is spreading in your local area or in any of the places you are going. Traveling to visit family may be especially dangerous if you or your loved ones are more likely to get very ill from COVID-19."

And if you are considering international travel, the CDC warns "avoid all nonessential international travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some health care systems are overwhelmed and there may be limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas. Many countries are implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice."

Watch: How to Avoid Getting Mask Rash

How Risky Is Traveling on an Airplane in Regards to Coronavirus?

If you are one of the many people who think being in a small enclosed space (like an airplane cabin) for multiple hours with strangers is a huge risk, the CDC actually says, "the risk of infection on an airplane is low... because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses, and other germs do not spread easily. But, the CDC stresses there is still the chance of an infection.

Read: Safe Summer Fun Ideas for the Entire Family during Coronavirus

If You Do Fly on an Airplane Is There Anything You Can Do to Lower Your Risk of Infection?

The New York Times and NPR report that airlines have drastically stepped up their cleaning protocols, but here are some things to do and keep in mind before traveling on a plane, along with CDC airline travel recommendations:

  • Avoid contact with sick passengers
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Do not travel if you or anyone in your household is sick, this is both a risk to yourself and others
  • Wearing a face mask will help and is required on all major US airlines and some international carriers
  • Bring hand sanitizer and wipes to give your seat and tray an extra cleaning
  • Try to separate yourself from other travelers, but do not expect to be able to socially distance on a fight as many airlines have reduced the number of flights and some flights are full or close to capacity
  • The TSA has also altered some of its screening procedures due to COVID, which you can learn about here

Read: Coronavirus Safety for the Beach, Pool and Lake

You Have Decided You Are Going to Travel Regardless of the Possible Risks, What Should You Be Most Mindful Of?

According to Dr. Henry Wu, a professor of infectious disease medicine at Emory University and director of its TravelWell Center, travelers need to be most concerned about the row they are sitting in, and seats in front and behind. "Even if the air is well-circulated and filtered if somebody is just really coughing or sneezing within the vicinity, it certainly does increase the chance of some exposure or contamination of the area around you," he shared with NPR.

Ultimately, most experts and health officials agree that air travel should only occur when truly necessary and they discourage it for vacation purposes for the time being.

"It's up to individual travelers to decide what is really urgent and necessary. While traveling in an aircraft, you may be around people from all over the world, whether on the plane or at the airport. There will always be some risk at this point, and it's going to be very difficult to determine how high." Dr. Wu notes.

Get more travel guidelines, including information on camping and cruises, from The CDC.

*Get more resources, tips, advice, and news on coronavirus/COVID-19 from The Doctors and stay informed on the latest information on the coronavirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization and learn about prevention methods and what to do if you are infected.

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