The new coronavirus, or covid-19, outbreak has changed air travel completely. From airlines cutting domestic flights and eliminating onboard amenities, to employers putting restrictions on personal and business travel, measures are being taken on all sides of the travel industry to curb the spread of the virus.
Although some people are choosing to forgo travel while the global health crisis looms with uncertainty, many are continuing to fly. Here’s what you need to know about staying healthy if you board a plane.
Understand the risks before you travel: Before booking your flight, make sure you’re aware of the status of the coronavirus outbreak in your final destination.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a searchable covid-19 risk assessment by country on its website for anyone concerned about their travel plans. Both China and Iran have been issued Level 3 Travel Health Notices, meaning the CDC recommends holding off on nonessential travel to those countries. The State Department is updating its own travel advisories in response to the outbreak.
The CDC asks individuals to self-quarantine for 14 days after a trip to a high-risk area. You’re also asked to practice social distancing, meaning avoiding public transportation, ride-share services, taxis, crowded places, as well as staying about six feet away from other people.
Maintain good hand hygiene: There’s a reason everyone’s talking about washing their hands: It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself from spreading diseases.
Although there’s no vaccine to prevent contracting covid-19, the CDC recommends washing your hands “often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.”
In between hand-washing, do your best to avoid touching your T-zone, the area of your face with mucous membranes.
“It’s the one behavior that would be better than any vaccine ever created,” William Sawyer, a family doctor in Sharonville, Ohio, and founder of Henry the Hand, a nonprofit organization that promotes hand hygiene, told The Washington Post about not touching one’s face. “Just stop this simple behavior. Stop picking, licking, biting, rubbing — it’s the most effective way to prevent a pandemic.”
If you don’t have access to soap and water, opt for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Skip masks, unless you’re sick: You’ll see plenty of people traveling through the airport wearing face masks, but the practice isn’t something recommended by health experts. According to the CDC, healthy people do not need to wear a face mask as protection against covid-19.
“Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others,” the CDC website says. “The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).”
Amy Shah, a double board-certified medical doctor in allergy and immunology, told The Post that standard face masks you can find online (if not sold out) aren’t very helpful against viruses.
“Is it bad? No,” she said. “It’s not like it’s harmful. But will it completely protect you? No.”
Instead, Shah recommends bolstering your own immune system by getting good sleep, practicing stress control, eating vitamin C in the form of food (think oranges and leafy greens) and to be diligent about washing your hands frequently with water and antibacterial soap for at least 20 seconds.
Wipe down communal surfaces: Once upon a time, it seemed excessive to wipe down your personal space on an airplane. In the wake of the coronavirus, the practice is now being recommended by health professionals.
Robert Quigley, regional medical director for travel risk mitigation company International SOS, told The Post that “thoroughly wiping down surfaces while traveling is ‘always in order,’ because many viruses and bacteria can survive on objects.”
It’s still not known how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces, but the CDC has not ruled out the possibility that the coronavirus can be contracted from touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes after touching a surface with the virus on it.
The CDC is urging people to disinfect frequently used surfaces that you touch with your hands, so bring disinfectant wipes on board if you’ll be using an in-flight entertainment system or tray table.
Choose a window seat: Some medical professionals recommend reserving a window seat on a plane to avoid catching an illness in-flight, noting that aisle seats have more access to potentially-sick passengers.
Vicki Hertzberg, a professor in Emory University’s School of Nursing and the first author on a Boeing-funded study on transmission of respiratory diseases on planes published two years ago, told The Post: “The strategy I take now for flying is: I take a window seat, and I don’t get up.”
However, the World Health Organization has said “research has shown that there is very little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on board an aircraft,” thanks to planes’ high-efficiency particulate air filters.