Travelers are returning to the airways. TSA reported it screened nearly twice as many passengers over the last weekend in May versus the first weekend of the same month. Some airlines are planning to increase capacity for their June schedule. That’s the good news according to a recent analysis of the airline industry.
If you’re planning to travel by air then it’s time to double-check your awareness of, and preparation for, the latest air travel changes and challenges implemented to minimize exposure to coronavirus.
My colleagues and I travel hundreds of thousands of air miles every year. It’s an essential part of our work in the travel risk management and crisis response industry. The following are a few tips and tricks you should know before you lift off on your next flight.
Air: Some travelers wonder if the air on a jet makes it easier, or harder, for COVID-19 to spread. The CDC reports most viruses are not easily spread on flights because of how airplanes circulate and filter the air. Air is circulated up to 6 times per hour and processed through HEPA filters which remove 99.97 percent of particles passing through them.
Jet Hygiene: Airlines are increasing their hygiene protocols to ensure onboard transmissions remain low. Some airlines are using UVC lights to clean surfaces. As an added precaution, you’ll want to bring your own supply of disinfecting wipes to wipe down tray tables, seat arms, windows and walls.
Queues: The greater risk of COVID-19 exposure comes from passing time in ticket lines, security queues, departure gates, jetways, and passenger seats—each of which potentially put you in close proximity with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Streamline your queue time by having all the necessary documents and information at the ready.
Onboard Seating: Physical distancing is tough in a confined space like an airplane. Most airlines have made the middle seat unavailable to help maintain social distancing.
Mask On: Keeping your face properly masked and covered at all times, except when TSA agents need to confirm you identify, is the safest option. Most major U.S. airlines require passengers to wear a face mask or face covering during their flight. It is strictly enforced at boarding and passengers are reminded and encouraged to wear them during the flight.
Double Check: Travelers need to call ahead to get the most up-to-date information, and check for updates regularly. Changes in flight schedules, travel restrictions, airline recommendations and rules—and how they are being enforced—can occur frequently. Your entire trip could be ruined by relying on old and incorrect details, and you may not be allowed to board the plane if you aren’t able to comply with the rules.
Testing: Currently, Dubai-based airline Emirates is conducting on-site rapid tests of passengers for the virus and Austria’s Vienna International Airport has started offering the tests for arriving passengers as well as other customers who want one. Experts suggest this could be the new normal for airlines going forward.
Track and Trace: You may be asked a few questions while making a reservation or during check-in, including: Have you traveled out of the country in the last 14 days? Have you been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus? Have you had any of the following symptoms: fever, dry cough, or difficulty breathing?
Signage: Most airports have placed markers in areas where line-ups occur to reinforce physical distancing as travelers wait in line. Passengers are also scanning their boarding passes—both paper and electronic—rather than exchanging them with TSA officers.
Wash Your Hands: Travelers should wash their hands regularly or use a minimum 60 percent alcohol-based (70 percent isopropyl alcohol) disinfectant before and after using the check-in kiosk, completing the security screening process, and showing your ticket at the gate.
Now, more than ever travelers need to plan for, and be prepared for, contingencies that affect travel. It is important to consider medical and security evacuation services and really understand what they will, and will not, provide. Make sure your health insurance is valid where you will be traveling. It is essential to have timely travel intelligence updates from a professional service. All of this preparation and forethought will enhance your awareness making it easier to avoid inconveniences or pitfalls. You’ll enjoy a better trip.
Harding Bush is a former Navy SEAL and associate manager of operations for Global Rescue, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services.
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