Q: Madeleine from Plano, TX asks, could you provide any updates on safety of air travel at this time in advance of holidays?
A: Yes! Since we last posted on this topic in August, a few new studies have suggested that risk of transmission of COVID-19 ON AIRPLANES themselves is fairly low *when masks are consistently used*.
While this is good news, other aspects of traveling still present the opportunity for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 en route to your destination, so staying #SMART during any holiday celebration will still be essential to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19 to your family and friends.
See our prior post on why a 14-day quarantine period before visiting family for Thanksgiving is really the safest way to celebrate this year (even if you test negative for COVID-19 before your trip).
If you do make the decision to travel by air to visit family for the holidays, key things to keep in mind are:
-While riding in a taxi or uber to the airport, you and the driver should be wearing masks and if weather permits, crack the window. While in the airport you should try to maintain 6 ft distance from others, wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. Wiping down the surfaces around your seat with a disinfecting wipe is probably not a bad idea either.
-As of now, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest are blocking seats for sale to limit the number of passengers onboard (see here for latest on airline policies for blocking seats and requiring masks. Whether you are on a flight with blocked seats or not, try to minimize the time you aren’t wearing a mask, particularly during boarding or exiting the plane when it may be harder to social distance.
-For the latest info on TSA screening procedures aimed at minimizing contact between TSA agents and travelers, see graphic below and this link.
-Since it is possible you will be exposed en route to your destination, if you can stay in a hotel or rental upon arrival, that will be safer than staying with family members. If you do stay with family members, maintaining social distance to the extent possible and wearing masks is advised. If you can celebrate with family at an outdoor, socially distanced and masked gathering, with a limited number of people for a limited amount of time, this will also help lower the risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among family members in attendance. If weather does not permit an outdoor celebration, it will be important to maximize ventilation in the indoor environment, for all attendees to maintain distance and wear masks as much as possible, and to keep the number of people gathering even smaller and time you gather even shorter.
Overall, because of the potential for exposure to SARS-CoV-2 during travel overall (not just on the airplane) applying as many of the SMART principles (Space, Mask, Air, Restrict and Time) as possible during any family gatherings will be key to reduce the chances you inadvertently spread COVID-19 to others before you realize you yourself are sick (and vice versa).
For the most up-to-date air as well as general travel guidance from CDC (updated October 6th), including considerations before you travel (including COVID-19 activity at your destination and any travel/quarantine restrictions), activities considered higher risk and what steps to take after you travel (generally and specifically, for air travel), see here.
See our last post on this topic here.
CNN story on two studies suggesting COVID-19 transmission on long-haul flights occurred *before* masks were required can be found here.
CNN article on recent Department of Defense simulation study showing that airplane ventilation systems help prevent spread of infection (albeit under highly controlled circumstances) is linked here.