The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically curtailed air travel around the world, and airports are experiencing a significant decrease in passenger traffic. However, most of them remain open for essential travel.
Airports have stepped up their cleaning regimen and airlines have adopted new measures to protect travelers.
If you do have to travel, experts recommend these precautions to help keep you safe and healthy.
SOCIAL DISTANCING IN AIRPORTS:
Airports are typically bustling, crowded public spaces, especially at the gates. But the dramatic decline in passenger traffic has made it easier to practice social distancing.
Maintaining a 6-foot social distance from other travelers is important from the moment you enter the airport, said Dr. Raymond Pontzer, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“Fortunately—not for the airlines, but for the travelers—the planes are not very congested right now,” Pontzer said.
WASH YOUR HAND FREQUENTLY:
We’ve all heard this one, but good old soap and water for 20 seconds is better than hand sanitizer or wearing gloves.
Passengers should wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. Many airports have significantly increased the number of sanitizing stations in their terminals since the start of the outbreak.
The Transportation Security Administration recommends passengers wash their hands both before and after going through security checkpoints.“Good hand hygiene is the cornerstone here,” said Pontzer. “Gloves aren’t totally 100 percent effective. They may be a barrier, but do the hand hygiene first and then put the gloves on.”
TSA is temporarily allowing passengers to carry one bottle of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces in your carry-on baggage. But if your bottle is larger than 3.4 ounces, it will need to be screened separately.
FACE MASK FOR SURE, BUT ONE MAY NOT BE ENOUGH:
Recommended by governments and health agencies for months, face masks have now been made mandatory by most major airlines in recent weeks.
“The face covering is meant to really protect others in the event that you are an asymptomatic carrier, and it contains the droplets that you might not otherwise be able to contain,” said Emily Magee, manager of the infection prevention department at St. Clair Hospital.
Masks can become damp and lose their efficacy over time, so Pontzer recommends that travelers on longer flights change masks every four hours.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, the key mucous membranes where the virus can enter the body.
WIPE IT DOWN:
The airlines have really stepped up their onboard cleaning procedures, but don’t take anything for granted.
Once on the plane, Pontzer and Magee recommend passengers use antibacterial or alcohol-based wipes to clean high-touch surfaces like seat belts, arm rests, tray tables, walls, windows and window shades.
Airplanes use filtered air, so passengers don’t really need to worry about the virus circulating throughout the plane.
OFF THE PLANE, MONITOR YOURSELF:
After a flight, passengers should monitor themselves for symptoms and reach out to their primary care physicians if necessary.
Certain areas around the U.S. and the world have been hit harder than others by the virus, but Pontzer said the disease is so widespread that travelers should be vigilant regardless of their destinations.|
“You are putting yourself at risk so you would want to take some precautions,” he said. “If you had older relatives, or anybody else you would probably refrain from visiting them if you needed to travel once you got back, for a couple of weeks.”
On arrival at your destination, you might get checked for fever. Do not lie to the authorities or panic. Tell the authorities about the country you are coming from, and if they detect a slight temperature, cooperate. In quarantine, you will be safe, and they will test you for COVID-19. It is best to get the virus detected early on, and get help.