Coronavirus Prevention: What To Do When Boarding A Plane

The spread of coronavirus has hit domestic and international airlines hard, resulting in cancelled flights and raising concerns for those with travel plans over the next few weeks or months. 

If your airline cancels your flight, your employer restricts any kind of business travel or an organization cancels its scheduled conference, the decision to go or stay home will be made for you. 

Normally, you would think about postponing your travel plans for safety reasons. However, if you really decide to go now, here are some recommended dos and don'ts from medical experts that you should know while boarding a plane:

Before Flying

Although airports and airplanes are normally germ-ridden, now is the best time to pay extra attention to the health and hygiene rules that you likely practice, such as washing your hands and packing items like hand sanitizers, tissues and extra meds. Before your flight, you may also have to make copies of your health insurance paperwork. 

If you are hitting the road over the next few days, weeks or months, check first the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for up-to-date information about travel advisories and risk assessment by country and think through contingency plans before you leave home.

Jonathan Fielding, a public health and pediatrics professor at UCLA, advised having "someone available in case you need help with emergency travel plans or need to get home quickly." 

However, keep in mind that as the virus spreads “you never know when a city you’re in or about to travel to is going to be sealed off, flights cancelled, or travelers quarantined,” he said.

At The Airport

Germs are spread out all over airports -- at screens at self-service check-in kiosks, on escalator handrails, food court tables, in restrooms, gate seating areas and at bins and belts at security checkpoints. 

Charles Gerba, microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona, said that you should never walk barefoot through the metal detector to avoid germs when at the security checkpoint. Rather than putting your shoes in the bin, place them on the belt. When storing your other valuables, do not place them in the bin, but put them inside your carry-on bag instead. More importantly, take some time to use a hand sanitizer in the post-security repacking area before you rush to the food court or departure gate. 

Even though airports across the country are stepping up their efforts to keep passengers and staff healthy, extra precautions must still be taken. “Our studies have found that viruses can spread very rapidly via the hands because of the large number of surfaces that you touch,” said Gerba, who then advocated handwashing, using hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol and using disinfectant wipes on hard surfaces in airports. 

Before your flight, "wait in the least crowded areas of the airport and try to stay at least six feet away from anyone else. And try to board the plane last, after the line has thinned, so you’re not stuck waiting in a tight space with lots of other people as they board,” Fielding said.

When On The Plane 

In response to to the threat of COVID-19, many airlines had cancelled flights and temporarily reduced schedules on some air routes. However, some, such as American and Alaska Airlines, are also sharing details about increased cleaning routines and adjusted in-flight service routines on aircraft still flying.

Despite these assuring efforts, Paul Pottinger, infectious diseases specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle, advised bringing your own germicidal wipes when rubbing down the surfaces surrounding your seat, which are prone to touching by other passengers. “It’s also mighty neighborly to offer one of those wipes to the person you’re sitting next to,” he said.

If you are healthy enough, there is no need to use a face mask when onboard the plane. Even if you want to, there is little evidence to support its effectiveness in keeping away respiratory viruses. 

As for the overhead air vent, it is better to have it blow toward you than use it to blow air away. As per Fielding, this creates "an invisible air barrier around you that creates turbulence – simultaneously blocking any droplets that may have viruses within them and forcing them down to the ground."

Coronavirus Outbreak As per the latest data, 100,770 cases and 3412 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported worldwide as of March 6. Pixabay