General Safety Travel Tips

Coronavirus: How Safe Is It to Get on a Plane

Many people around the world are waiting for the day when travel conditions will be back to normal. The coronavirus has put a stop to international traveling, all because of the risks involved – and rightfully so. Recently, it seems that some countries started to ease travel restrictions and the possibility to travel is more likely for certain areas. Travel markets are looking forward to bringing back trade and tourism to the way it used to be before the pandemic.

Is it safe, though? Many people have considered the risks associated with air travel, in fears of a potential second wave of COVID-19. How safe is it to get on a plane during these trying times? Read this article to find out more.

Can the Coronavirus Spread on Airplanes?

Sadly, coronavirus can spread on airplanes, and it’s even more likely than you may think. In fact, a few months ago, one passenger on a flight from the U.K. to Vietnam managed to infect 14 other people plus a crew member. So, it’s not something to play around with – it takes one infected passenger, and the entire plane could get the virus.

Basically, the virus can be transmitted very easily because it is present in respiratory droplets. When there are droplets in the air or on various surfaces from people with coronavirus, those around them could get infected instantly by getting in touch with the droplets. If you happen to touch a surface where someone’s droplets landed, you’re at risk, especially if you touch your face without washing and disinfecting your hands first.

Another way through which the virus can be transmitted is by shaking hands with someone. If someone has the virus, they cough into their hand and then shake hands with you, the virus is going to spread to you and could potentially be dangerous.

On a plane, things are worse than they are on land because the space is smaller and you’ll usually be closer to people, with no option of increasing the distance the way you’d want to. If a plane’s passengers cough or talk to each other, then small droplets can stay in the air from several minutes to several hours.

Although there are ventilation systems in planes, it may take around four minutes until small droplets are being extracted by the system. Within that period, it’s very possible for droplets to spread to nearby passengers and make them sick in case the one spreading the droplets has COVID-19.

Similar Situations with Other Viruses

COVID-19 is not the only virus that can spread on an airplane. Similar viruses such as influenza, SARS, or smallpox have spread on airplanes in the past. They spread the same way we’ve described above. If someone sneezed, coughed, or just breathed near someone else, the virus was easy to spread.

SARS, for instance, was an issue back in 2003, and it’s also caused by a coronavirus. During the outbreak, 40 flights were detected to have SARS cases, which resulted in the virus spreading to multiple other passengers.

According to some studies, the risk is increased when you sit within two rows of the infected passenger for flights of more than 8 hours. However, there was a situation when 20 people contacted the virus from being exposed to an infected person, yet less than half of them were sitting within two rows of this individual. What’s more, it was discovered that passengers sitting on the opposite side of the center aisle were very often getting infected.

Would an Open Middle Seat Be Effective?

One solution that people came with was leaving the middle seat open. It could indeed be something that decreases the risk of transmitting the virus. Still, the risk will not be 100% gone, especially if no mask is being worn by the passengers. Small airborne particles would still exist and if one of the passengers with an open seat between them has the virus, it would put the healthy person at risk.

Not having an open middle seat would also be too risky because it would place people closer to each other and thus it would be easier for one’s droplets to spread.

Is There Any Seat that Is the Safest?

If you are someone sitting on the aisle, then you’re more likely to come in contact with other people. Usually, lots of individuals are going to walk down the aisle, or just take something out of the overhead bins, which could spread the droplets more easily. This is why, if the flight happens to be a very crowded one, not touching one of the people in the aisles is highly unlikely.

Conversely, people sitting by the window are the ones with the smallest level of risk. Not only are they less likely to come in contact with those walking down the aisle, but they are also not too likely to get up to move around or use the bathroom. So, they are not that exposed to other passengers or surfaces.

If you want to make sure your seat is safer, going for a window one or a middle one instead of the aisle seat is much better. Go for whichever is further away from other people.

Is a Mask Going to Help?

Masks can be a great prevention method since they cover your mouth and nose. The coronavirus has a tendency of spreading through respiratory droplets, so wearing a mask would prevent you from breathing in the virus in case of contact with someone who has it. It could also protect other passengers from your own droplets in case you cough or sneeze.

But to be helpful, a mask should be worn correctly – and a lot of people don’t know how to do that. The mask should cover not only the mouth but the nose too. It should fit your face and not be too loose. Besides, to be safer, your hands should be clean and disinfected when you put it on, and the same applies when taking it off. The hands should be washed and sanitized after removing the mask as well.

Major airlines from the U.S., as well as some overseas ones, require their employees to wear face masks during a flight. They ask this from the passengers as well. The only exceptions apply when eating. Exemptions from this rule are people with medical conditions that don’t allow them to wear face coverings, as well as very young children.

Sanitizer – An Important Consideration

Sanitizing your hands is crucial, especially during a flight when you may shake hands with someone or simply touch a lot of surfaces. You should make sure to pack a sanitizer before leaving your plane. Some areas of the airplane tend to have more germs, such as the slider that locks the lavatory door, the faucet handle of the bathroom, and the magazine pockets. Tray tables are not exactly free of germs either.

It’s important for passengers to refrain from touching too many surfaces, especially if it’s not necessary. However, if you touch something, you should use sanitizer gel immediately.

Another thing you can do is using a pen to touch various things such as buttons. At the same time, if you do this, you need to be wary that your pen may be dirty, so you have to disinfect it as well.

The Importance of Wiping Down Surfaces in Your Area

When you get on the plane, you should consider wiping down the surfaces around your area. Even though airlines are trying their best to clean inside the plane, it’s still better to be sure and sanitize some of the areas yourself.

Some airlines offer hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes onboard, but since not all of them do, you should bring your own. You could clean your seat belt, the air vent, and the back tray of the seat. The magazine pockets should be wiped down as well. Afterward, disposing of the wipe and sanitizing your hands is required.

How Can Airlines Reduce the Risk?

Airlines are still trying to come up with solutions to prevent the spread of the virus and thus keep their passengers safe. For the most part, they are paying more attention to the cleaning aspect and they gave up on serving food and beverages for now. This should help reduce the risk.

Other things they decided upon are doing online check-ins, as well as automated bag drops. Some companies have decided to leave a space between their passengers, even though this is limiting the number of people who can be on a single flight.

On other airlines, passengers are being told to press the call bell instead of making a queue for the toilet. This will make them wait for permission before they can use the bathroom, so they don’t come in contact with people in queues.

Are Airports Also Taking Measures?

Aside from the airlines, airports also have a responsibility, so they are also trying to make the environment safer for passengers. For instance, at the Heathrow airport in London, everyone, including staff and passengers, will be asked to wear a face mask. They will also be asked to maintain the distance, so they don’t come in contact with too many people.

Moreover, they are making hand sanitizer available at more than 600 kiosks, so people don’t have to queue at a single one.

There have been other recommendations made to airports. For instance, they should introduce boarding gates at the retail outlets, as well as contact-free technology for bag drops. Queues should be avoided by doing boarding processes. As for the luggage, there should be dedicated carousels for them in case there are people arriving from areas with higher risks.

Final Thoughts

Traveling normally is not possible at the moment – not unless the coronavirus disappears, which won’t happen without a vaccine to combat it. If people want to travel to foreign lands, they will have to respect the measures as it’s not exactly safe to get into a plane at the moment. The slightest contact with the droplets of an infected person could put you at risk, so it’s best not to travel unless necessary. If you do, take safety measures as advised by airlines.