As lockdowns ease around the country and the world, many people are eager to travel again. But flying during and even after the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t going to look the same as it once did. Furthermore, until a vaccine is developed or herd immunity is reached, flying will remain risky, especially for those who are at high risk of serious illness and complications from COVID-19, or their vulnerable family members.
That doesn’t mean you can’t fly if you have to. But you should be aware of what safety precautions you have to take as you navigate airports and flights, and what to expect from border agencies and even state officials. For the most part, you’ll take the same precautions you’d take for a trip to the grocery store, but knowing what to expect at the airport, on the plane, and at your destination is important.
Take the Usual COVID-19 Precautions
When you’re flying during COVID-19, you should wear a face mask the entire time you’re at the airport and on the plane. Bring enough cotton face masks with you so that you can change it every time it gets damp throughout the trip. Most airports and airlines are requiring passengers to wear face masks, although people who can’t keep a mask in place, like small children, are usually exempt from this requirement.
You should also wash your hands frequently, with soap and hot water, for at least 20 seconds. In particular, you should wash your hands before eating, before touching your face, and after using the bathroom or touching high-touch areas, like door handles or elevator buttons. If you choose to wear gloves — and some airlines or airports may require passengers to wear them — put them on with clean hands. Bring enough extra gloves that you can change them before eating or touching your face. When you change your gloves, wash your hands before putting a clean pair on.
Bring hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes with you. Use hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands. Use the sanitizing wipes to disinfect your tray table, armrests, TV remote buttons, headphones, and, if you have a window seat, window, sidewall, and window shade. If you rent a car at your destination, use the wipes to clean off the steering wheel, gear shift, radio dials, and other high-touch areas in the car — although the car itself should be safe as long as the rental company disinfected it before giving you the keys.
Maintain six feet of social distance whenever possible when traveling, including at the airport. Many airlines are taking precautions to maintain social distance on planes, but it’s a good idea to ask your airline what precautions are in place to protect you in flight. You’re more likely to catch COVID-19 from someone seated right next to you than from someone at the other end of the plane, so maintain as much distance between yourself and other passengers as you can, especially if the airline allows you to sit wherever you want on a mostly empty plane.
Know What to Expect when Flying Post-COVID
Before you head to the airport, know what to expect both from the airport experience, the flight, and arrival at your destination. If you’re flying back into the U.S., expect to receive CDC health screening at the border. You will have to quarantine at home or wherever you’re staying for 14 days after your return or 14 days after you stop showing symptoms of COVID-19 if you develop them. You should avoid leaving the U.S. to travel internationally until the CDC says otherwise.
Even if you’re traveling within the United States, you may need to quarantine upon your arrival. Many states are requiring travelers who arrive from out of state to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, and some are enforcing the quarantine with fines and jail time. Some of these quarantine orders may only apply to travelers from certain areas, however, and they may change as the situation evolves.
Flying the COVID-19 era has become even more complicated than it already was. The best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to stay home. But, if you must fly, follow accepted guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19.