Moving forward, the average American will be over-consciously aware of contagions.
The last time we experienced a pandemic of this magnitude – the Spanish Flu spanned from 1918-1920 – most of us weren’t even alive. It stands to reason that this is all brand new territory for most of us.
But in the meantime, you need to read this expert’s sage advice on how to fly safely during a pandemic.
You need to do your best
It’s anybody’s guess when life will return to normal. We’re already getting hints that things will never be the same again.
For instance, did you know that right now airlines already require that you wear a mandatory face mask for the entire duration of your flight? Moving forward, how you fly will be changed forever much like how security changed after September 11th 2001.
You’ll have to adapt to the new safety measures these airlines have to meet in order to be insured. It’s important to note that this burden doesn’t squarely fall on the decision makers of these airlines. Governmental and Insurance company oversight will be implemented to ensure your safety.
Meet two experts who are here to help you: Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Arizona, Paloma Beamer, and Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Arizona, Kacey Ernst, who both co-authored a piece in the World Economic Forum to help you navigate the new world of flying. For reference, one is an exposure scientist and the other is an infectious disease epidemiologist.
In this article, Dr. Beamer and Dr. Ernst explain a “hierarchy of controls” graph that “focuses on strategies to control exposures close to the source” and “minimizes how much you have to rely on individual human behavior to control exposure. It’s important to remember you may be infectious and everyone around you may also be infectious.”
In hierarchy order from most effective to least:
Elimination: Physically remove the hazard
Substitution: Replace the hazard
Engineering Controls: Isolate people from the hazard
Administrative Controls: Change the way people work
PPE: Protect the worker with PPEs
Book shorter flights
Both Dr. Beamer and Dr. Ernst also encourages people to book multiple shorter flights even though it sounds counterintuitive because one flight would mean less exposure with other people.
But Dr. Beamer and Dr. Ernst note it will “decrease the likelihood of having to use the lavatory and the duration of exposure to an infectious person on the plane.”
That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
Book window seats
They also encourage the future travelers to book a window seat if possible. The radius of that seat is cut in half because you’re up against the wall of the plane, which reduces the number of people you’re exposed to.
Dr. Beamer and Dr. Ernst added travelers should “check out your airline to see their engineering controls that are designed or put into practice to isolate hazards. These include ventilation systems, on-board barriers and electrostatic disinfectant sprays on flights.”
Don’t book with airlines that don’t offer the aforementioned.
Both scientists offer a list on “How to be safe from shuttle to seat.”
- Bring hand wipes to disinfect surfaces such as your seat belt and your personal belongings, like your passport. If you cannot find hand wipes, bring a small washcloth soaked in a bleach solution in a zip bag. This would probably freak TSA out less than your personal spray bottle, and viruses are not likely to grow on a cloth with a bleach solution. But remember: More bleach is not better and can be unsafe. You only need one tablespoon in four cups of water to be effective.
- Bring plastic zip bags for personal items that others may handle, such as your ID. Bring extra bags so you can put these things in a new bag after you get the chance to disinfect them.
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as often as you can. While soap and water is most effective, hand sanitizer is helpful after you wash to get any parts you may have missed.
- Once you get to your window seat, stay put.
- Wear a mask. If you already have an N95 respirator, consider using it but others can also provide protection. We do not recommend purchasing N95 until health care workers have an adequate supply. Technically, it should also be tested to make sure you have a good fit. We do not recommend the use of gloves, as that can lead to a false sense of security and has been associated with reduced hand hygiene practices.
In conclusion, Dr. Beamer and Dr. Ernst both warn the added headache of traveling with young kids who won’t adhere to these hygiene behaviors and will likely constantly fiddle with their masks.
Both professors also importantly add at the end of the article, “Children under 2 should not wear a mask.”
It’s best to figure out other means if traveling with a child under two years old for the immediate future.
Keep all of this in mind the next time you think about flying.