While there’s a lot of uncertainty around air travel at the moment, the truth is, life must go on—and for many people, that includes flying (in concurrence with any current travel restrictions and bans, of course.) To help assuage concerns and prevent possible transmission between passengers, airlines have ramped up the cleaning of aircraft and implemented new hygiene protocols. Delta Air Lines, for example, is fogging its aircraft with a high-grade EPA-registered disinfectant, while Copa Airlines is sanitizing check-in and gate counters, in-flight entertainment screens, and galley surface areas and service carts.
American Airlines flight attendants are handing snacks to passengers in First Class, instead of letting people select their own, and has also swapped self-service snack stations for on-request refreshments on long flights. And Alaska Airlines says it is cleaning aircraft on the ground longer than an hour at its hubs, paying particular attention to attention to areas touched most frequently, as well as exterior and interior door handles to lavatories, the front and back of seats, window shades, and overhead bin handles.
But there’s also plenty that passengers can do to minimize their risk of exposure. According to the Dirty Truth Report, Americans have disturbing cleaning habits when traveling, with two in five people still choose to travel when they are sick—all the more reason for healthier travel habits. Colleen Costello, CEO and Co-Founder of Vital Vio, which produced the report, says that “right now, it’s the coronavirus, but next year it could be something else. It takes a village to stop an outbreak – and we all must play our part.” Here are six ways how you can do yours.
Beware TSA Checkpoints
When passing through security, germs are everywhere, so if a TSA screener needs to look inside your luggage, ask them to put new gloves on first (they often do not, and can end up passing germs from one traveler to the next). Also, checkpoint bins are touched by hundreds of people a day, so avoid touching personal items like toiletries, your phone, your toothbrush, and especially your face after handling them. Sanitize or wash your hands immediately afterward.
Bring Sanitizing Products
This may seem obvious, but it is worth the reminder: Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, but when that’s not possible, use sanitizer containing at least sixty-percent alcohol. As many as a dozen people may come into contact with the same airplane seat each day, so use disinfecting wipes or sanitizer to wipe down any area you may come into contact with, including tray tables, lights, air nozzles, and arm rests. Pay particular attention to porous surfaces like seat belts and cloth seat covers. Note that baby wipes are not a substitute for the disinfecting wipes mentioned above; what’s important is to use a wipe or cleaners with at least sixty-percent alcohol.
Don’t Forget to Clean Your Devices
Costello’s report notes that the majority of travelers bring their phones into the bathroom; even worse, only one in four has cleaned their phone’s screen, meaning germs can linger. While manufacturers have typically cautioned against using wet disinfecting wipes on electronics, Apple recently updated their recommendations (with some caveats.) Basically, you can clean your screen and other hard, nonporous surfaces with a seventy-percent isopropyl alcohol wipe, or spray liquid hand sanitizer onto a soft, lint-free, microfiber cloth so as not to damage the screen. Stay away from the power ports, and only do this occasionally so as not to damage the touchscreen.
Ditch the Mask
While face masks make people feel safer, the reality is that masks won’t prevent you from contracting COVID-19 (although they might keep you from touching your nose and mouth.) There is currently a shortage of face masks, which can affect medical personnel and patients who really need them, so practicing proper hygiene is the best way to go. Plus, modern aircraft already employ high-efficiency air circulation systems and HEPA-grade air filters, which regularly purify up to 99.7-percent of impurities in the air. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “because of the way air is filtered and circulates in airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily.”
Board Last—or Book a Window Seat
The usual jostle to find space in the overhead bin puts you at risk of coming in contact with more travelers rushing past you to do the same, so if you can, hang out and board last. Or, if you must board early, consider a window seat to stay away from the aisle. One on-board, be mindful of what you touch. When handing trash to a flight attendant, for example, take note if your hand touches other trash or the inside of the bag, which may have come in contact with contaminated objects. Flight attendants might be wearing gloves to protect themselves, but if you touch the surface of the gloves, you are not protected.
Rely on Your Crew
Flight attendants are trained to deal with medical situations, and they have on-the-ground support via inflight telephone to handle inflight emergencies. If you feel unwell or find that another traveler around you might be unwell, speak with your crew. They have antibacterial wipes, gloves, and other first aid equipment for emergency situations.