10 Things to Know About Flying During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Brittany Dick
10 Things to Know About Flying During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Most aspects of daily life were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and air travel is no exception.

Airlines took a huge hit when the virus disrupted travel, but the industry is accommodating this new way of life with added security measures to offer travelers peace of mind. If you’re thinking of flying in the near future, know that your experience will feel different than pre-pandemic times. 

Here’s what you should know before booking your next flight. 

1. Most viruses don’t spread easily on flights—but there’s still a chance of getting sick 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), viruses and germs don’t spread on planes as easily as you might think, due to the way air is circulated and filtered on most aircrafts. However, flying still increases your chances of contracting COVID-19 when compared to the alternative of staying at home. This is especially true if you are navigating a busy airport or boarding a packed flight. 

Even with the extra precautions airports and airlines have adopted since the pandemic, you may encounter long lines, waits, and crowds during the travel process. This makes it difficult to properly socially distance yourself from others, which is the number one way to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19 to others. 

2. Most airlines are taking extra precautions to keep passengers safe—including making COVID-19 testing more accessible

You may be screened for COVID-19 symptoms when you arrive at your airport. Many airlines are also making middle seats unavailable to help maintain social distancing on flights. Airport and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees are reminding travelers to follow guidance offered by the CDC. Specifically, anyone flying is encouraged to:

  • Maintain at least a 6-feet distance from others whenever possible. 
  • Wear a face mask in airports and on planes. 
  • Wash your hands before and after security screening processes, and use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. 

Additionally, air travel services such as American Airlines are offering COVID-19 testing for select destinations. Passengers traveling to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and some international markets must complete a test that complies with destination requirements. The airline offers 3 ways to get tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding flights:

  • Conduct an at-home test from LetsGetChecked, which has an average turnaround time of 48-hours for results. Travelers are strongly encouraged to choose this option to save time at airports. 
  • Get tested in person at select urgent care locations (namely in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area).
  • Undergo rapid COVID-19 testing at the DFW airport. Airlines recommend travelers using this method to account for one extra hour at the airport prior to your normal check-in time. 

3. Your chances of contracting COVID-19 while flying vary depending upon your destination

If where you’re going is a hotspot for COVID-19 cases, your chances of infection go up. Before you fly, it’s smart to know what you’re getting into by researching travel recommendations according to your destination. Traveling to a level 3, high-risk destination, for example, increases your chances of coming into contact with the COVID-19 virus. 

Consider the risks before booking your flight—especially if you’ll be coming home to any high-risk, immunocompromised friends or family in your household. 

4. When flying during a pandemic, preparation is key 

It’s tough to avoid every risk for COVID-19 exposure when flying. That’s why it’s essential to wear your mask correctly at all times, maintain as much of a distance from others as possible, and practice good hand hygiene during travel.

Additionally, know that you’ll encounter many high-touch areas and your risk for exposure increases if your airport is crowded or flight is packed. Some experts recommend traveling with hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. You can use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available, and disinfect high-touch areas with wipes before coming into contact with them yourself. 

Another way to prepare is to download your airline’s app for touchless boarding (if available) to minimize handing over documents or touching screens. 

5. You’ll probably need to wear your mask the whole time you are traveling 

This includes wearing a mask during your time in the airport and while flying—and for good reason, too. Plenty of ongoing research has cited the effectiveness of masks in reducing the risk for coronavirus spread when worn appropriately.

Exceptions may be made for young children, and you may take off your mask to eat or drink (if allowed on the plane). 

6. Your experience with amenities like shops, restaurants, and kiosks may be different 

Many airport shops are closed and several of those still open discourage the use of cash. Dining at airport bars and restaurants during your wait may also look different, as many have limited capacity during the pandemic. Some airlines have even stopped serving food on flights, so research beforehand and consider bringing your own plane-appropriate snacks if necessary. 

7. Your travel destination may have different restrictions in place than where you’re coming from

Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, make note of any changes in travel policies you’ll need to adhere to before you board your flight. 

Many destinations, such as those in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, require a quarantine and health screening prior to arrival. Stay up to date with travel restrictions and requirements by researching different travel update centers, often provided on your airline or airport’s website. 

8. Prepare to take any necessary precautions after you arrive home from your flight

If you are displaying COVID-19 symptoms such as fever or dry cough, have attended a large gathering, or feel you may have been exposed during your travels, consider quarantining for at least 14 days upon your arrival home. 

Even if you feel well, you can be contagious without symptoms for up to 14 days after exposure. While the CDC no longer advises a quarantine after all travel (except in the cases listed above), it does encourage social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, and monitoring your health upon your arrival home. 

9. Airport processes may take longer due to the extra precautions taking place

You may need to be more patient and flexible than usual if this is the first time you’re traveling since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe. Temperature checks, changes in how airlines board flights, and other screening measures may all account for a lengthier, more complex travel process than you’re used to. Consider researching how the process has changed at the airports you’ll be passing through and plan accordingly. 

10. In general, fewer people are flying now than during pre-pandemic times 

TSA reports significantly fewer travelers at airports compared to 2019 numbers. Not only are people vacationing less, but workplaces are also prioritizing virtual meetings and connections over company work trips that might expose employees to the COVID-19 virus. This is good news for those hoping to maintain social distancing in airports and on flights.

Brittany Dick
Brittany Dick is a once full-time, professional communicator turned freelance writer who specializes in crafting accurate health, wellness, and nutrition information. Since entering the freelance realm, Brittany has helped healthcare professionals tell the most impactful stories of their brand and deliver valuable health education to online audiences across the country.