Note: While I am a biologist by training and occupation, I’m not a public health expert. This is not medical advice, instead a way for me to share my experiences while traveling during the pandemic. As much as I wish I was traveling the world, now is not the time, and until the US gets things under control, I’m not sure when Americans will be able to get out and about. I have been and do recommend staying home. The recent travel experiences I refer to have been work travel.
Those of us who (used to?) travel frequently receive various emails about how airlines are keeping passengers safe. How many have you seen? Here are some recent examples I’ve received, in this case from American and their “Clean Commitment”:
Huh? Throwing out some apparent cleaning-related jargon doesn’t necessarily make me feel safer.
While I think airplanes are mostly safe, sitting in close proximity to a stranger for hours at a time does make me nervous. To me, air travel is not as safe as carriers would lead you to believe. I think the worst time is boarding, while social distancing is encouraged, it doesn’t seem to be followed too strictly. While I often prefer window seats, and especially now, I will continue to prefer that for future flights, just to make some more space from other passengers in the aisle, especially during the boarding process. I always have the overhead air vents blowing on me, and I find that particularly important now.
The method to my madness
On board, my routine has changed somewhat. While mask wearing is critical, especially on a flight, I choose to wear more than just a cloth face covering. Is it necessary? I’m not sure, but I’m content to be slightly less comfortable for more peace of mind.
On my recent flights, I wear a KN95 mask when on planes and other compact spaces like boarding areas and shared shuttles and buses. KN95 is a China standard for a respirator, it compares well with the NIOSH standard N95 (data), but the latter are and should be prioritized for frontline medical workers. I bought some KN95 masks from a local hardware store. Is it worth the cost and discomfort? Only you can decide that for your self. For me, the ability increase the protection both for myself, along with others while in close proximity, gives me extra comfort. I haven’t bought a face shield, but this is something that many travelers seem to be using. This will help prevent infectious materials from an errant sneeze or cough entering via the eyes. For some, this is additional protection that seems easy enough, and not too much of a discomfort.
Beyond the basic PPE that is required, some travelers take it a bit further. I’ve even seem some people in full Tyvek suits on planes and in airports, but that seems extreme. Others wearing full P100 respirators (essentially a gas mask) similar to those shown below.
I don’t wear gloves when traveling, I find this wasteful, and good hand hygiene is much more important. Who has seen TSA agents use the same gloves for multiple passengers? That is disgusting. Wearing gloves just gives a false sense of security, especially the longer they are worn. If it gives the user comfort, fine, but for me, watch what you touch, and only touch your face etc. with clean hands. Lots of hand washing and the use of sanitizer when not near a sink.
Bottom line – do I feel safe?
At the moment, I’m comfortable enough with flying that I would consider it for a leisure trip. Of course, staying safe at home is the best option. Business travel is way down, and my own work trips have not totally stopped, but are a tiny fraction of what they typically are. I’m hoping for some domestic travels with my family this year, but whether we go or not will very much be a last minute decision. Flights are seemingly somewhat busy, which isn’t comforting, but some planning can hopefully make this better depending on comfort with the situation. For future work trips, upgrades seem easy, due to so few business travelers flying. I easily cleared all upgrades on my American flights during this time.
What about you? Are you flying again? What additional precautions are you taking?