COVID-safe travel: Tips on flying in the age of the pandemic

While airline travel is starting to pick-up, concerns over passenger health still remain amid the ongoing pandemic. Here are some tips for those travelling by air this holiday season to provide some peace of mind and to minimise the risks of contracting COVID-19.

With the holiday period approaching, millions of passengers are expected to make their journeys by plane. While the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought the number of flyers to a historic low, air traffic is slowly increasing again. In the United States, over a million passengers cleared airport security to fly home on Thanksgiving eve, in only the fourth time this year that daily passenger numbers surpassed one million. Boosted by growing fatigue from COVID-19 restrictions and the upcoming Christmas holiday period, the number of air passengers is expected to increase further. With more seeking to fly again, practicing safety measures and being informed of restrictions at the destination will provide a peace of mind.

While passenger volume is not expected to return to a pre-pandemic level anytime soon, airports and planes are slowly becoming more crowded, making safety measures even more important. Allow for additional travel time to allow for pre-temperature screening and other sanitary measures. Wearing a face mask is not only a requirement at most airports and airlines, but also a proven way to reduce airborne transmission. Bring plenty of masks: passengers are recommended to wear a new one every four hours during long-distance flights. Carry at least one spare in the carry-on to ensure that it can be worn at all times before, during and after the flight. Keep in mind that some airlines like Air France do not accept cloth masks. Face masks, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes and gloves can be easily purchased at airport vending machines and kiosks.

While health measures are in place for safety and liability reasons, they have also deterred travellers from travelling. For travellers wanting both peace of mind during their travel and a quarantine-free stay, some airlines have begun offering ‘COVID-free flights’. Alitalia has launched a ‘COVID-free flight’ between Rome Fiumicino and John F. Kennedy airports in New York City on a trial basis until February 2021; as part of the pilot scheme, passengers will be required to submit a negative test result no older than 48 hours and then take a second test, in exchange for a quarantine-free stay. After Alitalia’s initiative, airlines like KLM and Delta plan to follow suit by offering similar COVID-tested flights on their Atlanta-Amsterdam and Atlanta-Rome routes. With airlines seeking to encourage travellers to fly again, such options may be offered on a growing number of airlines in the future.

Be informed of quarantine and testing requirements of your destination prior to arrival. In the United States, some states and cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City require out-of-state travellers – especially arrivals from high-incidence areas – to quarantine or present a recent negative test result. In the case of international travel, travellers from high-risk countries like the United States or United Kingdom may be banned outright from entering. While countries typically make exceptions for family members and in cases of essential purpose, travellers are advised to confirm their eligibility for entry and have documentation confirming their reason for travel. Travellers who do not inform themselves before travel risk being hit with a surprise quarantine order, denied boarding or turned back at the border.

Like other aspects of life in the pandemic, flying can be stressful. However, vigilance about safety and staying informed of COVID-19 measures in place at the destination will help keep travellers safe and avoid unpleasant surprises.

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