Catching a flight? Here’s how to not catch COVID, too.

By Brenna Miller

I get it! Flights are cheap and hotels are desperate for tourists, and you’ve been cooped up for nearly a year. And Florida has the best weather around this time of year. I understand completely – you want to travel. With COVID-19 still in the air (and in the lungs of the passenger sitting next to you), flying carries inherent risks. While staying put is the safest option, if you do need to fly, you can mitigate risks by taking ten basic precautions.

1. Get tested and receive negative results BEFORE flying – that includes your return trip.

The CDC has elected not to require a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding a domestic flight, instead recommending against travel in general. It may not be required, but getting a negative COVID-19 test it is still the best precaution you can take to avoid causing a cluster outbreak. Look up testing locations at your destination in advance. If you can get vaccinated before flying, even better.

2. Take a photo of your boarding ticket to document your airline and seat number for contact tracing.

There is always a chance that a person sitting near you is infected and carrying COVID-19. If this happens, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will reach out to you asking for flight and seat details. Everything will go more smoothly if you have it easily accessible.

3. Take direct flights.

It might cost a bit more, but it saves you a whole flight of potential exposure. If you’re paying to travel, it is probably worth the extra costs to reduce your risk of exposure.

4. Use mobile check-ins.

This minimizes your exposure to others. This allows you to sanitize any tech before touching it or use your own mobile device.

5. Be picky with your airline.

In contaminated flights where there are no assigned seats, it is incredibly difficult to contact trace. In many circumstances, the investigation just doesn’t happen due to the sheer volume of cases and the difficulty of tracing. Additionally, try to book with an airline that is leaving their middle seats empty; fewer people means less exposure. Look into each airline’s updated COVID policies. If you don’t see an updated protocol discussing the measures the airline has taken in detail, you shouldn’t trust that airline.

6. Wear a mask while traveling and sanitize frequently.

The CDC has mandated that masks be worn by all passengers on all public conveyances (i.e., airplanes, trains, buses, subways). Masks should be a standard feature in your life by now and traveling via airplane is no exception. The CDC has issued specific guidelines on how to select the best mask. Additionally, bring sanitizer and cleaning wipes for any surface you encounter that may not be clean. 

7. STOP flying to Florida. For real.

Especially Orlando. If your child hasn’t mastered object permanence, they won’t remember meeting a teenager sweating in a Mickey Mouse costume. We still don’t know the long-term effects of COVID-19, especially on infants and children, and your 72-hour trip is just not worth the possibility of your baby’s respiratory system facing lifelong consequences.

8. Check out how “hot” your destination is.

Remember the tip about Orlando? It’s in Orange County, Florida, which is currently classified as “high risk.” Here in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, our cases have declined 38% in the past 14 days. We can, and should, keep that trend going. To do that, we cannot be bringing COVID back as a vacation souvenir. Find your destination’s COVID risk level here.

9. Try to social distance if you’re snacking – it should be the only time you’re not wearing a mask and are at your most exposed.

Despite your best efforts to wear your mask nonstop, you will eventually have to remove it to eat or drink. If you’re doing that in the airport terminal, try to find an emptier space before removing your mask. It will be your most vulnerable time in the airport, but by following social distancing guidelines, you can mitigate that risk.

10. Answer the phone if the health department calls.

You would be surprised at the number of people who hang up and block calls from the health department. The epidemiologists and contact tracers are on your side, they want to keep you and your family safe. Let them help you and please answer the phone if they call.

While flying anywhere for nonessential reasons is not recommended at this time, there are measures you can take to protect yourself and others if you find yourself 30,000 feet in the air. Check in frequently with CDC guidelines as well as those from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the health department of your destination. When you take these precautions, you protect yourself and your neighbors. It will take all of us to put an end to this pandemic, but we can get through it together.

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