Is it Safe to Fly During COVID-19?  

man taking a woman's temperature at the airport

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in varying ways. Many have contracted the disease, and just about everyone knows someone who has. Travel has been affected, too: with the lockdown in the spring, many people no longer had a reason to travel. The business or pleasure destination they had in mind was no longer available to them. Vacations and business travel alike got canceled.

As we continue on into this pandemic, some restrictions have eased. And we’ve gotten to the point that some can no longer avoid traveling, period. Others are simply ready for an escape.

Whatever your reason for flying or traveling during COVID, you may have questions. Is it safe to fly during COVID? What are the risks of contracting COVID-19 during a flight? What precautions is my airline taking?

Here at PIE St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, we understand these questions and concerns. Read on to learn what’s true — and what’s not — about flying during COVID-19.

Don’t Travel if You Are Sick

First and foremost, whatever you do, stay home if you’re sick. Don’t travel, be it in a car, a train or an airplane. COVID-19 is transmitted by people, and it’s transmitted mostly by droplets expelled by those exhibiting respiratory symptoms. If you’re concerned about whether traveling is safe during COVID, then don’t contribute to the problem by exposing your fellow travelers to your illness.

We know it’s tempting to risk it. Airfare is expensive, and you’ve blocked off this segment of time for travel. But exposing your fellow passengers—not to mention everyone at your destination—to a potentially deadly pathogen simply isn’t worth it.

To recap: if you’re sick, stay home. Don’t fly (or drive or take the train).

All Travel Involves Risk

If you’re wondering if it’s safe to fly during COVID-19, we have to start by defining safe. While none of us like to think about it, all travel involves risk. Cars, trains, and planes can all crash or malfunction. But we are all more or less comfortable with the standard levels of risk that come with these modes of transportation.

Similarly, all forms of travel involve some level of risk of exposure to COVID-19. If you don’t leave your house and don’t let anyone in, you’re very protected from COVID exposure. The CDC says as much, encouraging everyone who can to stay home.

But once you leave your house, every person you’re in contact with could be a vector for exposure. Whether you drive or fly to grandma’s, the people you come in contact with could be contagious, even if not symptomatic.

Air Filtration Systems on Airplanes Lower the Risk

When it comes to air travel in particular, there are a lot of flawed theories out there. Many people mistakenly believe that air travel is risky because they are “breathing the same air” as a hundred or more other people for a few hours.

But this belief isn’t true, because that’s not how airplanes work. The CDC states that the air circulation and filtration systems on airplanes are designed in such a way that virus and germ transmission is rare.

Think back to your last trip: air blows down on you from above in a highly directed, individualized stream. Air is recycled through vents below you and run through hospital-grade filtration before being reused.

It’s the Airports More Than the Flights

The CDC’s cautions against flying are more about the process of getting to and from your flight than they are about the airplane ride itself. Consider the surrounding elements of air travel. Many people take a taxi or an Uber to the airport. All travelers must wait in a security line and be in brief close contact with TSA personnel. The airport terminal itself can be full of people and surfaces.

Multiple people handle your luggage at your departing and arriving airports. And once you land, you may need another taxi or a shuttle bus. All these scenarios increase exposure, and some make distancing difficult.

As you plan your trip, look for ways to reduce these exposures. Drive and self-park your car. Pack light (or, better yet, don’t check luggage at all). Plan for a trusted, safe contact to pick you up when you arrive. And, whatever you do, please skip the crowded airport coffee shop.

Empty Seats and Masks Lower the Risk

Many US airlines left middle seats vacant for the summer, helping to promote distancing while on board. Additionally, all airlines are following CDC recommendations by requiring mask use in flight for all those above age 2. These measures also reduce risk.

Certainly, sitting right next to a stranger for hours on end is a little concerning right now, so check to see if your airline is still blocking off middle seats. (Or consider the following point.)

Traveling in a Family Group Can Lower the Risk

Another way to reduce risk during air travel is to travel as a family group. If your household is negative for COVID and symptom-free, then traveling as a group can help you stay healthy. You’ll naturally reduce potential exposure from strangers.

Consider Traveling with St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport 

All travel, including air travel, has COVID exposure risk. But be smart, and the risks won’t be as severe as you might think. If you’re healthy and take reasonable precautions, flying can be a reasonably safe method of travel during COVID-19. In response to COVID-19, the St. Pete-Clearwater Airport (PIE), is taking necessary precautions to provide a safe and clean airport for all traveling passengers. Fly with PIE today! 

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