Do you think about flying? I’ve thought about it more. In the “before times,” I was on an airplane multiple times a month, flying for both business and pleasure. I’ve been opening and operating hostels for nearly 15 years and had most recently been traveling frequently between my home in New York City and my newest property under construction in Portland, OR.
Travel was such a massive part of my existence that, while I’m dying to get back into the air to take care of business and reclaim my former life, I must consider that air travel means prolonged exposure to other people. In our collective longing to return to normalcy, we are grappling with the fundamental question, “is it safe?” when making decisions every day. Air travel is chief among the customs of our pre-Covid lives that begs that question.
I have no professional affiliation with the airlines, and I am not a health and safety expert, but I own a boutique hostel in New York City. New York was hit hardest and earliest by the pandemic, and, since March, I’ve been working diligently to keep my doors open to host guests throughout the crisis safely.
In the past six months, I have spent an excessive amount of time evaluating risk factors, considering best practices, and refining my operations to keep my team and guests safe. I finally took to the skies last month and approached that experience with the same lens I’ve used to retool my hostel business. I have identified some in-flight tips everyone can take to make your next plane trip as safe as possible.
List of In-Flight Tips during Covid from a Travel Professional
1.Book an “unpopular flight.”
In an offering to the upgrade gods, this is a tactic I regularly deploy in the hope that Delta will kindly bump me from basic economy to the promised land of economy plus.
On my recent trip from New York City (JFK) to Portland, OR (PDX), I specifically chose a route that wouldn’t be popular among business people (an 8 pm arrival on a Monday). Upon boarding, the airline rewarded me with a First Class upgrade! More importantly, the flight was pretty empty, so everyone could safely spread out throughout the plane.
Business travel has dropped, but people still want to be efficient with their travel times, so, in the hopes of a less- full flight, opt for schedules that have you arriving at less than ideal times (later in the evening mid-week, Saturday, or Sunday mornings, etc.)
2.Don’t check a bag
Checking a bag is always a scourge of efficient travel but even more so now. If you have the upper body strength to hoist a rollaboard into the overhead storage bins, now is the time to do it. Because capacity is limited on most flights, you won’t have to worry about enough space in the overhead bins.
More importantly, you can avoid a half an hour or more of unnecessary exposure to strangers while waiting for your baggage upon arrival. People always act like irrational animals when vying for space at the carousel – the pandemic has only heightened this disorder. Don’t get involved.
3.Avoid the Bathroom
The airplane lavatory is where you are exposed to typical disgustingness in a tight space. Additionally, the washroom has always been a hot spot for bad in-flight behavior, which now includes today’s prime peccadillo of removing your mask in public places.
A cross-continental trip is long enough to make this safety tip a physical challenge. Still, I made sure to hydrate early in the day and hit up the terminal bathrooms (which are much more spacious and cleaned/sanitized more frequently than ever) right before boarding. The lavatory is a concentrated risk zone best to be avoided.
4.Consider your In-Flight Snackage Wisely
Mindful of my bathroom avoidance, I was careful with the amount of water I consumed onboard and how I was drinking it. Your hands are a prime point of exposure, so less eating and drinking will avoid bringing them to your face. A screw-top water bottle served that purpose, and I got my snacks onboard that wouldn’t require me to bring my hands to my mouth.
Airplane peanuts or anything else you have to touch is an absolute no-go. I went with cheese and salami sticks that I could eat while holding the wrapper. Bananas or granola bars are other good options. The safest course of action is to not eat or drink at all on your flight. Removing your mask at any moment leaves you vulnerable to exposure.
Seat selection is essential if you want to limit your exposure to others; do not sit on the aisle. Opt for a window seat, and then settle in knowing your immediate exposure is now limited to those passengers seated nearest you. It is such a delight to be back in the air. I spent most of the ride admiring the clouds and watched a lightning storm from above!
It is no secret that you must wear a mask inflight. However, not all masks are created equal. There is probably a favorite mask in your repertoire, so make sure it is clean and it fits well before your trip. Every time you touch or adjust your mask, you are bringing contamination directly to your face.
If your seatmate removes his or her mask and/or isn’t wearing it properly, do not be afraid to speak up. When my seatmate had his mask hanging under his nose before takeoff, I went for a friendly and productive approach. I did a brief intro, “Hi! My name is Lee, what’s yours? It’s nice to meet you. Would you mind pulling your mask up over your nose? I want to make sure you stay healthy and that we all have a safe flight.”
Your health is too important not to speak up.
I look forward to the day that air travel returns to pre-Covid levels of normalcy both personally and professionally. In the meantime, think critically about risk factors and plan your travel experience to mitigate unnecessary exposure.