Air Travel and Minimising Risk Covid 19
The threat of Covid-19 has hung over 2020 like a very dark cloud. The flight path for humanity has been obscure and impossible to plot – Air travel and minimising risk Covid 19, has been very worrying for people grounded at home and the aviation industry non-existent. Even now, with the skies finally brightening, international leisure and business travel still feels a long way away from the zippy heights of previous years – where we would jump on a plane for a weekend, a wedding or a sun-soaked holiday.
Come fly with me!
Yet the shock and fear of flying during the Covid-19 pandemic is now being debunked, as we start to build up evidence that, contrary to our expectations, travelling by air is one of the safest activities when it comes to exposure and transmission of airborne viruses. Even so, there are some rules we need to observe, and some expert advice which we should consider when it comes to minimising the risk of Covid-19 when it comes to travelling by air.
Take heed of government advice
Whatever your political leaning, government advice, especially regarding travel is now very thorough and guides you through the process in great detail. It is definitely something you should check out if you are thinking about or soon to be boarding a plane to foreign climbs.
- Check if you are legally allowed to fly – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have slightly different rules in place which are constantly changing. Make sure you are allowed to travel and that you aren’t supposed to be isolating (due to symptoms or due to track and trace identification).
- Find out what the implications for travel are – do you need to isolate on your return to the UK. Factor this into you trip plans.
- Booking a flight – check with your insurer and find out the Covid-19 situation in your destination location to make sure it is safe and legal to visit.
Preparing to fly
Believe it or not, but the risks associated with COVid-19 around flying are minimal when it comes to the actual flight – most problematic is actually the airport environment and is the time you should be most observant. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to minimise your airport risk before and while waiting to fly.
- Check-in online – for many this will already be standard practice, but online check-in not only minimises exposure, but also saves time. Most airports have now implemented unstaffed bag drops.
- On arrival at the airport – follow social distancing guidelines. You should all be familiar by now but travel alone (or with people you live with/support bubble). This means if you are not travelling, do not enter the airport unnecessarily.
- Wear a face mask at all times (unless requested to remove for security purposes)
- Avoid touching surfaces, but if you do, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds as soon as possible and avoid touching your face. Alcoholic gel/hand sanitizer is the next best alternative – This is allowed in your hand luggage, but must still be under the regulation volume allowed (100ml)
- The most at-risk point in your airport experience is the valuables trays at security. Avoid handling if possible but wash hands immediately following security if necessary
- You might need to have your temperature checked before boarding and upon arrival
Minimise your movement
When it comes to the airport and the plane – minimise your movement. Avoid walking around shops and mixing with those you aren’t familiar with – pick some chairs away from busy areas and close to your gate and stay there. Pay using contactless card and don’t touch surfaces – or wash your hands after if you do.
On the plane
Most of the above rules also apply when in the air, although you must take into consideration the length of the flight to appreciate how easy this will be to achieve.
- Experts believe windows seats offer the minimal risk of transmission as people sitting are less likely to get up – only 43% rather than 80% likely for those in the isle seats.
- There will be less food on offer on your flight – so think ahead regarding your own food or eating before you fly.
- Wear a mask at all times, unless eating or drinking and especially when travelling around the cabin.
- Minimise your movement and avoid touching surfaces like tray tables and arm rests. For reassurance, bring sanitising wipes and wipe down surfaces where you are sitting.
- Be sure to wash hands thoroughly if using the toilets.
Plane myth busting – safer than the supermarket
Many people assume air travel is dangerous because the cabin uses ‘recycled air’, but this is not quite true, and has not been for quite some time. Actually around 50% of air you breathe on a flight is completely fresh and 50% is reused. Of the reused air it is all filtered through medical-grade HEPA (High-efficiency particulate air) filters which remove 99.9% of all airborne particulates and eliminate the chance of almost all airborne viruses and bacteria from being transmitted.
Here comes the science bit
American medical journal JAMA actually published an article recently citing the minimal risk from infection, noting that air travels downwards to circulate and doesn’t really move up and down the cabin but stays in a vertical plane. This means you are only really at risk of infection from those siting very close to you (6ft/1.8m). Dr. Rui Pumbal et al go on to claim that you are at greater risk of infection from a trip to the supermarket or by travelling by public transport than by air travel.
Anecdotally, it is recommended you open up the air nozzle above your seat and direct it over your face to ensure that you are always breathing in fresh filtered air before it circulates anywhere else.
On arrival and in situ
Of course, the reason for travel is a means to an end – usually work or pleasure. On arrival you might need to quarantine or complete a passenger location form (as you do when you arrive in the UK) and you should familiarise yourself with local requirements before you travel and prepare eventualities.
As with everything during this time, the level of risk you take on depends on the level of exposure – so you need to weigh up your plans vs. you risk. Follow similar guidance as you would at home and err on the side of caution.
Avoid busy places, especially ones indoors and wear a mask in these situations, even when outside. For example current (at the time of writing) you are legally required to wear a mask at all times in public in Paris and are only allowed out with a valid reason and completed for to prove your intentions. Don’t get caught out – the FCO website is usually very useful and accurate in finding location specific information. Here is an authoritative 226 country specific Covid-19 guidance which is constantly kept up to date.
Live just as you have been – with caution and consideration
If eating out, trying to literally eat out (side). Bars and restaurants in the open air will be less susceptible to transmission and again, avoid public transport wherever possible. In regard to accommodation, your most ideal method will probably be private residence – such as Airbnb, apartments, or villa rental where you can control the environment and who enters it. Sanitation and hygiene standards have all been meticulously raised during this period, but consider wiping down contact surfaces with sanitizing wipes upon arrival.
Even hotels, where risk is slightly higher are taking Covid 19 extremely serious and most large brands have instigated completely unstaffed check in and secure cleaning with room seals once a deep clean has been conducted.
Sunny days are not too far away
The bottom line is that apart from some serious hotspots, locations abroad are in the main, a similar exposure risk to at home. The most impact on your risk of catching a virus is your own behaviour.
Wash your hands frequently, avoid touching communal surfaces and minimise risk by staying away from crowded areas – if not use a mask wherever you feel unsafe. Travel is now part of our lives and it will continue to be now and in the future – if you take sensible precautions, which have minimal effect on your overall enjoyment there is no reason why international travel cannot become the inspiring and enjoyable pastime loved by so many again.
For all other advice, visit the essential UK gov portal – UK guidance coronavirus covid-19
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