There are no guarantees, but we can also not live our lives in fear and anger.
Booking flights out of smaller airports where there are fewer people is one way I reduce health risks while flying. Further, small aircraft typically service airports like Prescott Regional Airport and Flagstaff Pulliam Airport. With fewer people aboard these regional jets, I believe someone with COVID-19 is less likely to be on the flight. I’ve flown more than 70 legs during the pandemic and have – so far – avoided illness. Here are more ways that I protect myself:
Selecting Your Seat
You can pay extra to choose a seat with more legroom, giving you more space for physical distancing. Or, book your flight on the Embraer 145 that United Airlines flies in and out of Flagstaff. You can see on the airline’s seat map that window seat A in all rows is also an aisle seat. Consequently, no one can sit next to you if you select seat A.
On larger aircraft with three seats on each side of the aisle, choose a window or aisle seat in a row where one of the seats is already booked. That way, a couple traveling together can’t select the middle and remaining seat in your row. And, this decreases the possibility that someone will book the middle seat.
Window or Aisle?
By choosing a window seat away from aisle traffic, you’ll avoid others hovering as they push for the door at the end of the flight. That said, stay seated until the row in front of you empties to avoid contact with other passengers. A study by Arnold Barnett, a professor of statistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found the probability of getting COVID from a nearby airplane passenger is only one in 4,300. “Statistically, the window seat is a little safer than the middle seat or the aisle seat on a plane that’s full. But it’s not a big difference,” Barnett told CNN Travel.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
Federal law requires all travelers ages two and older to wear a face mask during the entire flight and while in the airport. Monika Leuenberger, president and CEO of Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, advises, “Prepare yourself mentally that you will see people that don’t want to wear the mask. You have a choice now: either get upset or accept the fact that you cannot control other people’s behavior.
“Unless that maskless person is coughing in your face, take a deep breath and feel comforted by the fact that you are still in a safe environment and that you are protecting yourself as much as you can,” advises the travel expert. “There are no guarantees, but we can also not live our lives in fear and anger. So, being mentally prepared goes a long way.”
Regarding masks, wear comfortable face masks, with no vents or openings, that fully cover your nose and mouth. I bring three masks to change throughout the flight, usually between bites and sips when we’re allowed to lower our face coverings. Besides extra face masks, which I pretest to ensure their design is comfortable for my face and doesn’t make me claustrophobic, I also pack an empty water bottle and antiseptic wipes in my carry-on.
Before leaving home, I check in online to minimize my health risks and download the airline’s app to reduce touchpoints further.
Hand Hygiene at the Airport
I’ve made it a habit to look for hand sanitizer stations at the airport and use them whenever they are offered. I also make sure to physically distance while in lines, even if other people are not. For example, you can give the person in front of you six feet of leeway and then use your carry-on roller bag to keep pushy passengers behind you at bay. Once through TSA, fill your empty water bottle to stay hydrated and give yourself short reprieves from the mask when you lower it between sips.
I wear long sleeves when traveling and use my forearm to push open doors or balance on the handrails of escalators or moving walkways, thus avoiding touching things with my hands. While waiting for my plane at the gate, I find a less congested area.
On the Airplane
When boarding the aircraft, take the antiseptic wipe that the flight attendant offers. Once at your seat, wipe air duct knob, chair arms, seat-belt buckles, tray table and window shade handles. While in flight, avoid using the restroom. Flight attendants report that it’s the least clean place in an airplane; but if necessary, use a tissue to open and close the door behind you after washing your hands.
I am so pleased that most airlines have reintroduced onboard snacks and beverages. I always accept what flight attendants offer because it gives me refreshment – and an excuse to lift my mask, if only momentarily.
At THE Baggage Claim
I avoid the mosh pit at baggage claim by packing everything in a carry-on whenever possible. Not only can you often save money by purchasing a carry-on-only ticket, but you’ll also avoid pushy passengers scrambling to retrieve bags. If you must check bags, stand back from the baggage carousel until you see your bag.
I love what Jason Barger says in his book, “Step Back from the Baggage Claim,” “Just imagine what the experience at the baggage claim would be like if everyone took three steps back so everyone could see, and if everyone actually helped those around them with their bags. Not only would the spirit and environment around the conveyor belt be more positive for all, but it also would be a more efficient way for everyone to get their bags as quickly as possible.”
In this ever-changing travel landscape, it’s important to be kind. At the airport, it’s easy to perform acts of kindness like stepping away from the baggage carousel and helping someone with their bags or holding a door with your elbow for the person behind you. Or smiling at the flight attendant who has the ugly job of enforcing mask laws. It might not be so easy to be pleasant to the person crowding our space or the claustrophobic wearing their mask on their chin. But we can all try a little bit harder to be kind travelers while we all navigate the changing rules and regulations together.
Travel is not risk-free; I know that I could contract COVID-19 on my next flight. But with the above practices, coupled with the advances of air filtering and other safety measures taken by the airlines, I am ready to take the risk. In fact, Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health reported, “The risk of COVID-19 transmission onboard aircraft [is] below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out.” FBN
By Stacey Wittig, FBN
Stacey Wittig is a travel writer based out of Flagstaff. For more travel tips, visit unstoppablestaceytravel.com.
Hear more about travel and adventure from Stacey Wittig later this month on Zonie Living: Business, Adventure and Leadership, at Dave Pratt’s Star Worldwide Networks.