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Tips for Flying Safer During the COVID-19 Era

By

GARY E. BITNER, APR

|

December 16, 2020

Despite warnings from health officials urging people not to fly, millions of people will be on airplanes in 2021. Here’s a list of tips for flying safer during the COVID-19 era, to help you minimize risk and avoid getting sick.

Booking your flight
  • Book a nonstop flight, if possible. You’ll save time and encounter less than half as many people by cutting out a connecting airport and a second flight.
  • Plan to fly during off-peak travel days and off-peak times. Tuesdays or Wednesdays are better than Fridays or Sundays. Flights departing in the evening may be less crowded than morning flights.
  • Pick an airline that continues to block middle seats. As I write this, Delta is the only airline that continued to block middle seats.  Search online for “blocking middle seats” and the name of an airline for the most up-to-date information.
  • Pay for a reserved window seat. You’ll more easily avoid being exposed to passengers and crew members who walk up and down the aisle.

Before you head to the airport
  • Plan to bring a carry-on bag instead of checking luggage. You don’t want to hang around a crowded arrivals area where people are waiting for their bags to come off a conveyer belt.
  • Eat before you fly. Your goal should be to avoid standing in line for airport food and to avoid interacting with cashiers. Also, moderate your fluid intake in advance of your flight, to minimize bathroom visits at the airport and in the air.
  • Also, if you eat before you fly, you are more likely to keep your mask on for the entire flight. This is important for your safety.
  • Check-in and print your boarding pass before you go to the airport. If your airline uses an online seat map, recheck the seat map to see if you are seated in a crowded area of the plane, and to see if another area is less crowded. If you can find a window seat in a less crowded area, change your seat. Keep in mind that passengers seated behind you are more likely to breathe in your direction than passengers seated in front of you. I would rather have an empty seat behind me than in front of me.
  • Identify your airport gate before you arrive. If it’s not printed on your boarding pass, check the flight information section of your airline’s website. If you know where you are going, you will spend less time looking at airport monitors and wandering around a crowded airport.
  • Find out if your flight is on-time before you head to the airport. I use the online site FlightAware to get the most up-to-the-minute flight information. Gate information is often available there.
  • Time your airport arrival to minimize the time spent there. I never arrive more than an hour before my flight. In the COVID era, I try to reduce that time to 45 minutes. Less time means fewer interactions with people at the airport.
  • Bring both hand sanitizer and wipes. Test your mask at home to make sure it fits snugly. Bring an extra mask.

At the airport
  • Park at the airport in a place where you can walk to your gate. Or get a ride to the airport and wear your mask. Try to avoid buses, shuttles, trains and other forms of public transportation.
  • Make sure your mask is secure before you enter. Keep sanitizers and wipes handy.
  • When you enter the airport, try to visualize a no-contact-with-others “personal buffer zone” around you at all times. Walk far enough to the right and left of others, or in front of them or behind them, to avoid getting too close.
  • Avoid ticket counters, baggage check-in areas and kiosks and go right to security screening.
  • Security screening lines tend to be shorter during the COVID era because fewer people are flying. If you have to wait in line, pull your carry-on bag at arm’s length behind you, to force distance between you and anyone in line behind you. If someone behind you is pressing too close, let them go ahead of you. It’s not worth the stress or the safety threat.
  • Be ready with your printed or electronic boarding pass and ID at the security screening desk. No rummaging for either at the last minute.
  • Remember your “personal buffer zone” when putting items through the screening machine. Back off if others get too close and invade your personal space.
  • Once you are through security, grab your items and move to an area with fewer people around you. Use your hand sanitizer, then reorganize before you walk to your gate.

At the gate and boarding the airplane
  • Find an area at the gate with fewer people around you. This could be across the corridor or at the next gate.  Wait and watch for the boarding of your flight to begin.
  • Consider the number of people waiting to board your flight. If it looks like your flight might be full, ask the gate agent if it will be full. If so, ask if there is a better option to help you reduce risk. Airlines are very flexible during the COVID-19 era.
  • if you are waiting in an uncrowded place, try to be the last person to board your flight. This will avoid having others board behind you. My experience is that social distancing is rare when getting on or off an airplane. You want to avoid standing in a line on the jet bridge or on the airplane. Pull your hand luggage at arm’s length behind you, if necessary, to force distance between you and the person waiting behind you.
  • By boarding last, you will also be able to consider all the people sitting around you on the airplane. Look closely to see if anyone appears ill or drunk or careless with their masks. If necessary, ask a flight attendant to help you find a different seat
  • Don’t be bashful about protecting your health and safety.  If you can’t be reseated, or if you are uncomfortable with people sitting around you, just get off the plane. It’s not worth the potential danger and stress of staying on board.
  • Use sanitizing wipes to clean all surfaces at your seat. This includes the headrest, seat, seat belt, armrest, window shade, sidewall, seatback tray, seat pocket, air vent and light switch. Use hand sanitizer to clean your hands.

Onboard your flight
  • Turn the air vents on above you to maximize the airflow and aim them to blow air down in front of you. The safest air on the airplane is the filtered air that comes out of the vents. You want as much of it in your breathing space as possible. This will also help to push airborne virus particles down and away from you.
  • Avoid eating and drinking so you can keep your mask on at all times.
  • Minimize conversations with nearby passengers.
  • If possible, avoid leaving your seat for any reason.
  • If someone near you appears to be ill or refuses to wear a mask properly, ask to be reseated.

On arrival
  • Let other passengers deplane first. Avoid standing in the aisle with people crowded around you.
  • In the airport, remember your “personal buffer zone.” Move deliberately through the airport and wait in an uncrowded outside area, if weather permits.
  • If you must take a shuttle or bus, avoid waiting in line or in a crowded area. If possible, wait for a shuttle that looks less crowded. Sit or stand where fewer people are located.
  • Hand sanitize. And keep wearing your mask.
  • As you can see, staying healthy and safe when you fly takes some planning and work. But with a little advance planning and careful focus, you can minimize your risk and help to avoid getting sick.
  • Author Bio: A frequent flyer, Gary Bitner is the founder and president of one of Florida’s leading public relations firms, Bitner Group.  He has traveled extensively through Latin America, the Far East, Europe and the United States, including much of Alaska.

Author Bio:

A frequent flyer, Gary Bitner is the founder and president of one of Florida’s leading public relations firms, Bitner Group.  He has traveled extensively through Latin America, the Far East, Europe and the United States, including much of Alaska.

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