Flying During COVID – Introduction
I recently did a Zoom interview with Mogul about flying during the current pandemic. In the event you didn’t see it, I thought I’d summarize my thoughts and advice here.
We’ve flown four times since March 1. I’ve also talked with others who have flown more than we have, particularly Valerie Wilson from Trusted Travel Girl who was very helpful. I highly recommend following her on social and checking out her blog.
What are Airports Like During COVID?
If you haven’t flown since March, you’ll see that the airport largely mirrors the rest of the world. There’s plexiglass at check-in, there are social distancing stickers, and everyone is wearing masks. TSA will be largely normal, except that the agents are wearing gloves – for their safety, not yours. They’re touching everyone’s bags with the same gloves.
Given that far fewer people are traveling this year, a lot of airport shops and restaurants are closed. Lounges still have food, but it’s generally pre-wrapped. No more buffets, at least for now.
Boarding your flight will be largely the same. Airlines are only having moderate success at keeping people from congregating at the gate.
What is Flying Like During COVID?
Every airline is different. Delta is still blocking middle seats but American and United are not. United is cracking down on people keeping their masks off too long to eat and drink, but the others haven’t announced a similar policy. Regardless of who you’re flying, you’ll find that the plane is cleaner (hopefully) than you’re used to and you’ll be required to keep your mask on the entire flight.
Meal service will include more pre-wrapped options, with current business class meals resembling international coach meals in the past – hot dishes with foil over them instead of nicely presented.
Upon arrival airlines are asking people not to stand up in advance, so it will take a little longer to deplane. You can get up once the row in front of you has left.
Advice for Flying During the COVID Pandemic
Don’t Go To The Airport If You’re Sick
If you have a fever, a cough, or any COVID or flu symptoms at all, don’t travel! You’re risking the health of others, and with possible temperature checks at the airport, you could be denied entry or boarding anyway.
Bring a Mask – and Make Sure It’s the Right Mask
I’ve flown with my normal cloth mask, but I’m getting reports that some airlines are allowing only the blue disposable masks. Check with your airline before you go, or simply take a few masks so you’re covered.
Bring Hand Sanitizer and Wipes
TSA is allowing passengers to go through security with 12oz of hand sanitizer, so well above their normal 3.4oz limit for liquids. Why you would need more than a small bottle for a normal trip I have no idea, but if you want to take a large bottle of hand sanitizer, go for it. I’d also take wipes so you can wipe down any surfaces in the airport or plane that you’re touching. Optional are gloves and a face shield – bring them if they make you feel safer.
Bring Your Own Water Bottle and Food
Don’t assume that you can find food at the airport. I saw a photo recently of over 100 people in line for Starbucks at the Salt Lake City airport because it was the only place open early in the morning. So have coffee and a meal at home (or at your hotel) before going to the airport and don’t eat at all during your journey, or bring your own food. And just like pre-COVID, bring an empty water bottle and fill it up past security.
Get TSA PreCheck and Global Entry
In normal times, it’s great not to wait in line for outgoing flight security and incoming customs/immigration checks, but at this point you definitely don’t want to wait in a long line with breathing individuals if you don’t have to. We have Global Entry (which includes PreCheck) for all five of us, and it’s well worth the $100 cost (x5) every five years. Our credit cards cover the enrollment fees for at least a couple of us.
Be Aware that Flights are Leaving Early
With fewer flights, there are far fewer take-off or landing delays due to congestion. That means planes are getting to their gates earlier and are getting cleaned earlier, so flights can board and take off faster. I’ve heard multiple reports of flights leaving early. If you’re used to getting to the airport half an hour before the flight, hitting the restroom and then boarding right before they close the doors, you may want to rethink that.
Eat When Others Aren’t
If you’re going to eat on the plane, wait for everyone else to eat (assuming the airline is serving meals or snacks) and then when they put their masks back on, take yours off and eat quickly.
Avoid the Middle Seat
If you can avoid the middle seat, do. The air on airplanes is exceptionally clean, constantly coming in from the outside and being filtered, but you still don’t want two people breathing a foot away from you.
Fly Up Front
Or better yet, use miles to purchase business class tickets. I’ve heard varying things about upgrade availability – some have found it easier to get upgraded, since no one is flying for business right now, but I’ve also heard the opposite – that with far fewer flights, and with some Biz seats blocked for crew, there aren’t as many upgrades to be had. It could depend on the airline, but if you’re able to get a Biz ticket using a reasonable amount of frequent flier miles, go for it.
Turn On Your Air Vent
With more air flowing around you, it’s even less likely that any sort of airborne virus could hang around long enough for you to breathe it in. If you typically get cold on planes, bring a jacket or sweatshirt to counterbalance the air.
If you find yourself frustrated by elements of flying right now, please don’t take it out on TSA or airline personnel. Pilots and flight attendants are either flying more than ever or they’re worried about layoffs, or both. And whereas you can bring food for your one or two flights, every day airline personnel have to eat in the airport and deal with restaurant closures and long lines at the places that are open, or they’re forced to get meals from convenience stores by their hotels – not fun. Be nice to them, and don’t hassle anyone about mask regulations. They’re just trying to keep you safe and keep their jobs.
Feel Comfortable Traveling Right Now
And lastly, feel confident in traveling right now. It’s safer to be on a plane with clean air than to be hanging out in your kitchen having drinks with friends and family.
Have you flown recently? Do you have any advice to add for flying during COVID? Were you worried while traveling, or did all of the airport/airline precautions make you feel safe?
When you flew did you rewear those clothes during your trip, or did you have two separate outfits for travel days (to and from)? I will be flying soon and typically pick minimal but I’m wondering if I need a new full outfit for every day of travel or if it is still safe to rewear clothes
Eric Stoen says
The current science seems to be that this is an airborne virus and, even though it can live on surfaces for hours or days, it’s rarely transmitted via touch points. I’m not a scientist or a doctor, but I’m not worried about wearing clothes for multiple days of travel. Totally your call based on your comfort level.