Few are eager to jump on a plane right now, but with much of the globe slowly opening back up, entrepreneurs and others may find themselves forced to fly for urgent business. Given that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, how do you stay as safe as possible on a plane?
Few are better placed to answer than epidemiologist Kacey Ernst and environmental engineer Paloma Beamer. This anti-infection tag team from the University of Arizona recently took to the TED Ideas blog to offer their best advice for travelers.
They stress "the best way to control exposure is to eliminate the hazard" by choosing not to fly, but if you can't avoid getting on a plane, take these eight steps to stay safe.
1. Consider multiple shorter flights, rather than one long one
Usually this would be a recipe for a longer, more uncomfortable trip than necessary, but right now breaking up your journey has advantages, including decreasing the length of time you might be exposed to an infectious person on any one leg of the flight. It also makes it less likely you'll need to use the plane's bathroom, a hot spot for potential infection.
2. Book a window seat
"If you consider the six-foot radius circle around you, having a wall on one side would directly reduce in half the number of people you are exposed to during the flight, not to mention all the people going up and down the aisle," explain the scientists.
3. Vet your airline's safety practices
Not every carrier is putting in the same effort to keep you safe. Vote with your dollars for the ones that are going all out for passenger health.
"Check out your airline to see their engineering controls that are designed or put into practice to isolate hazards. These include ventilation systems, onboard barriers, and electrostatic disinfectant sprays on flights," advise Ernst and Beamer. Good ventilation systems on planes are highly effective, they point out.
4. Disinfect everything
That lady next to you breaking out the hand wipes to scrub every surface within reach isn't crazy. She's smart.
"Disinfect surfaces such as your seat and seat belt and your personal belongings (like your passport)," the experts recommend. "If you cannot find hand wipes, bring a small washcloth soaked in a bleach solution in a ziplock bag. This will probably freak out airport security less than carrying a personal spray bottle, and viruses are not likely to grow on a cloth with a bleach solution." But don't go too crazy with the bleach -- one tablespoon per four cups of water should do it.
5. After you clean it, bag it
Once you've cleaned your passport or phone, don't just leave it lying around waiting to be contaminated. Bring a supply of ziplock bags so you can store your personal items inside once they're germ-free.
6. Wash your hands a lot
This is a no-brainer, but it's so important it bears repeating. If you can't access soap and water, hand sanitizer works too, though not quite as well.
7. Stay in your seat
The virus may be circulating on the plane, so you shouldn't be. Once you're seated, stay put as much as possible. The same advice would hold even if you were just trying to avoid catching something during a normal flu season. Pre-pandemic research showed that booking a window seat and staying in it was the most effective measure you could take to avoid getting sick on a plane.
8. Wear a mask
Many airlines will require you to wear a mask, but even if the one you're flying doesn't (or if they're not enforcing their policy strictly), keep your mouth and nose covered. "We do not recommend that you use gloves, as those can lead to a false sense of security and have been associated with reduced hand hygiene practices," the scientists add.