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How COVID-19 Is Changing the Way We Fly


June 5, 2020
Categories: Safety, Health, Travel Tips

Are you ready for your first flight since the coronavirus pandemic?

It’s a new travel world out here and airports and airlines are rising to the challenge of keeping planes, passengers and pilots as safe as possible.

Because of how air is filtered and circulated on airplanes, it is thought that most viruses do not spread easily on flights. However, there may be a risk of getting COVID-19 on crowded flights if there are other travelers on board infected with COVID-19.

As you prepare for your first flight since travel was restricted, Global Rescue has compiled some information to ease your return to the skies.

Am I able to book my flight and just show up at the airport?

Harding Bush, associate manager of operations at Global Rescue, recommends travelers be aware of the airline’s restrictions, recommendations and rules — and how they are being enforced.

“Travelers should call ahead to get the most up-to-date information, as it seems to change by the minute,” Bush said. “The whole trip could be ruined by relying on old and incorrect details, and you may not be allowed to board the plane if you aren’t able to comply with the rules.”

Global Rescue members have access to trusted travel planning resources, which includes information on flight and entry restrictions worldwide.

Do I have to wear a mask at the airport?

Yes, however, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer may ask you to adjust the mask to visually confirm your identity during the screening process. Once you’ve exited security, you’ll want to keep the mask on throughout your airport visit.

Will I be tested at the airport?

According to US News & World Report, Dubai-based airline Emirates is the first to conduct on-site rapid tests for COVID-19 on its passengers. Experts suggest this could be the new normal for airlines going forward. An April Global Rescue survey found 91% of travelers are willing to undergo screening and testing, as well as disclose certain medical conditions (73%) and even provide their 14-day travel history (93%). It is something to expect in the future.

At the very least, you will be asked a few questions while making a reservation or during check-in. These questions may include:

  • Have you traveled out of the country in the last 14 days?
  • Have you been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus?
  • Have you had any of the following symptoms: fever, dry cough, difficulty breathing?

Will there be any different procedures at the airport?

You’ll notice social distancing cues as you wait in line.

Starting in June, according to CondeNast Traveler, passengers will be “asked to scan their own boarding passes — both paper and electronic — instead of giving them to the TSA officer. After scanning, passengers will hold up their boarding pass so the TSA officer can visually inspect it.”

How can I reduce my risk at the airport?

Travelers are reminded to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel and prevention guidance regarding COVID-19, which includes washing your hands regularly with soap and water and using a minimum 60% alcohol-based disinfectant when soap and water isn’t available.

This includes directly before and after using the check-in kiosk, before and after completing the security screening process, and before and after showing your ticket at the gate. Jeffrey Weinstein, medical operations supervisor at Global Rescue, suggests washing or disinfecting your hands “any time you touch a surface.”

Do I have to wear a mask on the plane?

Yes, most major United States airlines — including JetBlue, American, Delta, United and Southwest — require that passengers wear a face mask or face covering during their flight. It is strictly enforced at boarding and passengers are reminded and encouraged to wear them during the flight. The crew will be wearing masks and gloves, too.

“It may be uncomfortable to wear a mask during your flight, but do it,” Weinstein said. “Cover your nose and mouth, not just your mouth.”

How often are they cleaning airplanes?

Airlines are increasing their hygiene protocols to ensure onboard transmissions remain low. You may not be able to request a pillow or blanket, or pay with cash for beverages.

You’ll want to ensure the airline is disinfecting between flights and using a hospital grade disinfectant on hard surfaces such as tray tables, seat arms, windows and walls. Soft surfaces should also be cleaned and disinfected. Travel + Leisure details the inflight safety precautions and after-flight sanitization procedures for most major airlines. You can always ask for confirmation while making your reservation.

If a passenger or employee exhibits coronavirus symptoms, the CDC recommends the airline takes the plane out of service and sends it “through a full decontamination process that includes standard cleaning procedures plus washing ceilings and overhead bins and scrubbing the interior.”

Weinstein said that most organized airlines are using UVC lights to clean surfaces, but not all airlines are going to have this capability.

“The passenger next to you could have been on a third world charter plane,” he said. “You’re going to want to follow all the safety guidelines for your own protection, because not all airlines, or travelers, will use the appropriate precautions.”

What can I do during my flight to stay safe?

Wear your mask.

Avoid the middle seat, which puts you in direct contact with two passengers instead of one. “Most airlines have made the middle seat unavailable to help maintain social distancing,” Weinstein said.

Bring your own disinfectant wipes and wipe down any area within your reach before you sit. This includes your seat belt, buckle, tray table, air vent, light button and windowsill, if you are seated near a window.

Skip reading the inflight magazine, drink only sealed beverages, and eat only prepackaged foods.

Limit your movement. The less contact you have with others, the better. If you need to use the bathroom — a high traffic area on most planes — bring some wipes with you to tackle the door handle, toilet seat lid or sink faucet. “Don’t touch anything if you don’t have to,” Weinstein said.

Is there anything else I can do to protect my health?

Purchase a Global Rescue membership. You’ll have access to medical and security evacuation, travel intelligence and assistance services to assist and protect you when you are away from home.


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