In mid-March, a few days after restaurants closed for “dine in” in New York and people started working from home, I flew on a domestic flight to Miami.
On any normal day I’d wait in a long line at airport security. LaGuardia would be teaming with people, even at 5am.
This time it was entirely different. The security line was non-existent and it took me all of about 5 minutes to zip trough the scanners and head to the gate.
I donned a mask and I washed my hands every moment I could.
Usually I wouldn’t even look up if someone coughed or spluttered. I would stand at a crowded gate or chat to other passengers in the airport bar.
This time I was hyper-vigilant, trying to make sure I didn’t stand too close to anyone.
Travel during the Covid-19 epidemic is definitely a little surreal, yet there are precautions you can take to make things a little safer. Here’s what I’ve learned from flying during Coronavirus:
Eat before you head to the airport
When we got to LaGuardia I was super hungry. We’d woken up at 3am for an early morning flight and I figured I’d get something on-the-go at the airport, but alas I’d forgotten that quarantine rules apply everywhere – including airports. Restaurants weren’t serving any food, so the only place I could grab a snack was the newsstand.
If you’d rather not pay $10 for a tiny box of cheese and crackers I suggest you eat something before you get to the airport.
At times like these it’s also probably not a great idea to be eating anything with your hands in a public area, so best to eat before you leave.
Wear a mask
The CDC now recommends you wear a mask when going out in public. This helps to stop you exposing other people to your saliva and respiratory secretions from sneezing and coughing, and vice versa.
N95 masks are the only ones that have a close fit and will truly filter those tiny airborne particles, but those should be reserved for medical professionals who need them.
Even surgical masks should be reserved for those in the medical profession, but my roommate works in healthcare and happened to have a couple lying around in the house, so lent me one to use on the flight. These block splashers and large droplets, but they won’t filter out those smaller airborne particles.
Surgical masks are designed for single use, so if you use one of these make sure you dispose of it after the flight is over.
CDC recommends that members of the general public fashion their own cloth coverings. You can use a bandana, a scarf or fashion your own out of a bit of material and elastic. Companies like Found My Animal are selling community masks that are re-usable and washable. Make sure you wash your mask daily to get rid of any contaminants.
Try not to touch your face
Viral particles can be transferred to your nose, eyes and mouth if you touch your face. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but try not to touch your face while at the airport or on the flight.
If you need to take your mask off, wash your hands first before removing it, and wash them again before you put it back on.
If you can, download the airline’s mobile app and get your boarding pass on your phone. This saves having to touch things like kiosks or boarding passes at the airport. If you have your boarding pass on your phone you can easily scan it without touching anything.
Stay away from other passengers at the gate
Airports are the emptiest they’ve ever been right now, but people still congregate at the gate to board their flights. Try to sit several seats apart from other people so that you can keep 6ft distance at all times.
Wipe down your airplane seat and tray table
Airlines should be cleaning and sanitizing planes thoroughly before boarding, but you can never be too careful.
I took a bag go Clorox wipes and wiped down the tray table, the seat, the belt buckle, the window and the seat in front. Basically anything that my body would touch.
When you first board the aircraft you’re supposed to sit in your allocated seat but since these are quarantine times, most flights are operating with only a handful of passengers.
So, if there are spare rows, try to move seats and sit as far away from other passengers as possible.
Some airlines like American Airlines and United Airlines are also blocking out middle seats at the reservation stage so passengers aren’t seated next to each other.
Wash your hands in the airport restrooms
Airport restrooms are cleaned regularly, and are stocked with soap and sanitizer.
Wash your hands and gloves frequently, particularly after the flight before you go to baggage claim.
If you put your phone down on the countertop when you wash your hands, make sure to wipe it down with sanitizer or Clorox wipes.
Carry some hand sanitizer as well so that you don’t have to get up and wash your hands mid-flight. It definitely comes in handy just in case you can’t get to a bathroom.
Airport terminals are stocked with free hand sanitizer and TSA has made an exception to the liquids rule by allowing one 12 ounce bottle of hand sanitizer per passenger.
Download Uber or Lyft
Many airport taxi ranks are empty so make sure you have Uber or Lyft downloaded to your phone so you can easily order a ride when you land.
Take a shower and launder your clothes straight after the flight
After the flight, be sure to head straight to the shower, wash your hair and throw your clothes straight into a washing machine. That way if you have any viral particles lingering on your clothes or hair you’ll be able to get rid of any contamination.
What it’s like flying during the coronavirus pandemic
Flying (or going anywhere) during Covid-19 has a bit of an apocalyptic feel. It’s quiet. The airport doesn’t have that “buzz” that it usually would. There are no lines at check-in and you can’t sit down to eat before your flight.
But it’s not completely empty. Flights are still operating and people are still flying domestically in the US.
When I travelled in mid-March I noticed about 50-60% of people traveling through the airport were wearing masks. Now that the CDC recommends wearing masks in public, I’m sure a lot more fliers are wearing them.
The flight to Miami was running about half full, which was busier than I expected. It wasn’t possible to stay 6ft away but most people wore masks, sanitized their seats and I swear I didn’t hear one cough the whole journey (maybe people were afraid to!).
Of course since lockdown restrictions tightened and “stay at home” orders are in place, many flights are now nearly empty with just a handful of passengers. Many fliers have posted pictures of almost-empty airports and planes.
About a week after my flight, an order was issued that said anyone traveling from NYC to Miami had to self-isolate for 2 weeks. The governor said that the situation in New York had caused many New Yorkers to flee the city and fly down to Florida in order to visit family or ride things out in their winter vacation homes.
Is it safe to fly during Coronavirus lockdown?
Is anywhere safe during Coronavirus? At this stage, leaving your home runs the risk of getting infected with Covid-19 or infecting others.
If flights and airports are near-empty then it’s much easier to stay away from others and socially distance. On an empty flight you can easily sit several rows away from other people.
But it also depends on the route and how busy the flight is.
Current guidelines say people should avoid non essential travel. If you do need to fly then make sure you take the usual precautions you would take when going to your local grocery store. Stand 6ft apart, wear a mask, wash your hands and don’t touch your face.