Although some states have loosened coronavirus restrictions, the ongoing pandemic remains a real threat. After canceling summer travel plans, you may be hoping to take a vacation soon, but is it safe to fly this fall? Here's what experts have to say about hopping on a flight in the coming months.
While some states have put in place stringent restrictions on travel or social distancing as a means to control the coronavirus, others have not, and there’s growing public concern that some areas have reopened too quickly. Cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, continue to rise in the United States, with 77,217 positive cases reported as of Thursday, July 16, which is the highest single-day number the country has reported during the pandemic. Dr. John Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., clinical professor of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC Berkeley School of Public Health, tells Elite Daily that people should avoid flying at all costs. "Things are going terribly in the U.S. We have [about] 4% of the world’s population and about 30% of the world’s [cases]," he says. "Now is the time to protect yourself, your family, and your community. Limit your contact with other people as much as possible."
According to travel guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as of June 28, it's safest to stay home and avoid traveling outside of your community. Swartzberg says planes remain a risky option. "Everyone should [avoid flying] unless there are compelling reasons for plane travel. Airports and planes necessitate your being in an enclosed space for a prolonged period of time with many people and no social distancing," says Swartzberg. Since the novel coronavirus is thought to spread mainly through respiratory droplets in person-to-person contact, anytime you're in close contact with groups of people, there is an increased risk of exposure.
Dr. Rachel Vreeman, M.D., MS, a professor of pediatrics and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Health System Design at Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, previously told Elite Daily a major concern for traveling during the summer was the lack of a COVID-19 vaccine. As of Friday, July 17, there is still no vaccine available to the public. Vreeman explained, "We need excellent COVID-19 testing to be in place and widely available, and we need a vaccine as soon as possible."
If you do fly, Swartzberg says, “Only use [plane travel] if you must. And then, take every precaution you can. It’s not just the planes but also the airports," he says, since airports see a constant turnover of travelers in close contact and in enclosed spaces. He suggests you use hand sanitizer frequently, wear a face covering over your mouth and nose, and maintain a six-foot distance from others. He also notes you should wear a mask before entering the airport and at all times during your trip.
Kirsten Koehler, Ph.D., MS, associate professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Elite Daily if you have to fly, it's important to follow the same recommendations for any close-proximity interactions. "[Some airlines] are doing a really good job at sanitizing their plane, but it couldn't hurt to bring an alcohol wipe with you and wipe off your area," she continues. "A lot of [the spread of viruses] is [due to] these touched surfaces, and on planes, these are highly, highly touched surfaces." Additionally, Swartzberg says, "Try to sit by the window (that way you won’t have someone on one side).” He also suggests not taking handouts from a flight attendant and avoid using the plane’s bathroom.
As of publication on Friday, July 17, most major U.S. airlines require passengers to wear a mask on flights to prevent the spread of the virus. Specific airlines have varying safety policies in response to the coronavirus pandemic, like American Airlines’ new check-in process as of June 30, which requires travelers to certify that they have been free of COVID-19 symptoms for the last 14 days. Some states also require a two-week quarantine upon your arrival, depending on where you fly in from. If you do fly, you should check the policies of the airline you plan to fly before embarking on your trip.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends following the CDC's guidance for travel. The CDC strongly advises against international travel unless it's essential, and some countries have implemented large travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines for U.S. travelers. As of Wednesday, July 15, only about 30 countries out of over 200 worldwide are allowing U.S. travelers to enter, due to the severity of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, and two-thirds of those put restrictions in place for potential travelers. The European Union has blocked U.S. travelers entirely as of Tuesday, June 30.
If you do go to the airport, the TSA encourages travelers to wear a mask during the security screening process, and the agency is also recommending travelers put phones and wallets into a carry-on bag for the screening process (instead of loose in a bin). Additional safety precautions include implementing social distancing at security checkpoints with visual floor markers and a greater cleaning and disinfecting process of the TSA’s security equipment. Travelers are allowed to bring one hand sanitizer of up to 12-ounces in a carry-on bag, but since it is above the standard allowance for a carry-on liquid, it will be screened separately.
Safety precautions don't necessarily prevent you from being exposed to the novel coronavirus, and Swartzberg says those who do travel this fall should be wary. "Certainly don’t go to a destination where the case numbers are growing," he says. While many of us may be itching to travel, Swartzberg says now is not the time. "We’re in the middle of a pandemic. These are not normal times. You need to recognize that your 'normal' activities are something you should jettison until this is over."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Dr. John Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., clinical professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health's Division of Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology
Dr. Kirsten Koehler, Ph.D., M.S., associate professor of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Dr. Rachel Vreeman, M.D., M.S., professor of pediatrics and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Health System Design at Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai