On Friday, May 22, I flew from Los Angeles, where I currently live, back home to Charlotte, North Carolina, to be closer to family right now.
Planes have been flying emptier the past few months: U.S. air travel demand is down about 90% from a year ago and 73% of U.S. flights are less than half full, Airlines for America (A4A) estimates. However, my flight happened to be an exception and was nearly full. I was prepared with the basics — I wore a mask for the duration of the journey and packed hand sanitizer — but looking back, I could have done more to feel safer at the airport and on-board the plane.
It's nearly impossible to socially distance if you're traveling by air, so you're better off avoiding flying if possible. But if it's essential you travel, here are four things I wish I'd done differently before heading to the airport:
- Download your airline's app so you can have a mobile boarding pass rather than a printed one. It'll be one less document to hand over to TSA agents at security and ticketing agents at your gate, which I had to do. (Though, TSA announced last week that passengers will soon be asked to place their boarding passes on scanners themselves to limit contact.) Plus, if you have your boarding pass ahead of time, you won't have to print it at the airport. That's what I did, which meant using a touch-screen at one of the self-service kiosks.
- Keep hand sanitizer accessible at all times. After boarding, I accidentally left mine in my carry-on bag, which I placed in the overhead bin. You're better off keeping it in your pocket or a small bag you're placing under your seat.
- Bring sanitizing wipes to disinfect your airplane seat, tray table and general space around you. Airlines say they're enhancing their cleaning procedures, but it can't hurt to wipe down the space yourself. Plus, it will give you more peace of mind.
- Leave the gloves at home. Experts warn that you can easily contaminate yourself with gloves if you don't use them properly and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that they're not necessary for the general public unless you're cleaning or caring for someone who is sick. I brought a pair, but didn't end up using them.
Here are three things I did ahead of time to prepare for a safe flight that I would recommend:
- Wear glasses to prevent yourself from touching your face. My glasses served as a reminder to not touch my eyes, which I tend to do subconsciously. Between my mask, which covered my mouth and nose, and my glasses, my face was almost completely protected. If you don't wear glasses, goggles or a face shield will work. It could also decrease your risk of catching the virus through your eyes.
- Pack your own food. Not all airlines are serving food and beverages on board. For my five-hour flight, American Airlines handed out paper bags with a small water bottle and pack of chocolate caramel bites. Plus, most bars and restaurants in the airport terminal were closed. I brought a bag of snacks from home to avoid unnecessary contact in airport shops.
- Keep your distance during the boarding process. While signs and announcements reminded me and my fellow passengers to maintain our distance while boarding, it's difficult to keep so many people apart in such a small space. And there weren't any physical markings to help indicate proper social distancing. My strategy was to wait away from the gate, where it was less crowded, and board last, after the gate was nearly empty.
Flying safely comes down to more than just maintaining your distance from other travelers. You want to limit contact as much as possible by doing things like using a mobile boarding pass, bringing your own food or paying for anything in the airport using a form of contactless payment like Apple Pay, instead of cash or card.
As for the actual flight, it's hard to know whether you'll be flying at half capacity or sitting inches away from other passengers. Prepare for it to be full, expect to have your face covered the whole trip, pack disinfecting wipes and keep your hand sanitizer close.