Whether you’re planning an essential trip or a post-pandemic getaway, one thing’s for certain - travelling will change because of the coronavirus. After almost 20 months of border closures, we are starting to feel safer taking to the skies once again. The world as we knew it is never going to be the same. Regardless of what happens in the next six, nine, or 12 months, or even two years, COVID-19 has created a whole new heightened awareness towards personal hygiene, infection control and social distancing.
How can you safely explore the world with friendly people who might infect you (or who you might expose to the virus)?
Here are some tips and best practices for travellers to safely travel during these difficult times.
Is it really safe to board a plane right now?
The risk associated with flying comes mostly from the chance of being close to someone that is sick. You might be thinking about that recirculated cabin air. That was a hygiene issue that airlines addressed well before the pandemic because reducing the circulation of any pathogen or virus – even the common cold – is beneficial.
The air in a plane is probably cleaner than the re-circulated air in your home or office. That is unless your air conditioners are fitted with surgical-grade air filters like they are in planes. Aeroplanes are equipped with HEPA filters that catch 99.9% of particles as small as 0.1 to 0.3 microns, so they are effective in filtering the Covid-19 virus, which is about 0.1 microns but usually binds to something larger. Once you’ve boarded your flight, you’ll want to keep your masks on as long as possible.
In most aircraft, the entire mass of cabin air passes through these filters much faster. Cabin air is completely refreshed every two-to-three minutes. We can rely on this good air movement in planes, which is almost more important than the air filter themselves. So even if someone on the flight is infected, you are very unlikely to inhale a high enough viral load to infect you.
General COVID Precautions are Still Best Practice
When you travel (or whenever you’re in any public place like airports and public toilets), the best thing you can do for yourself and for others is to practice the universal COVID-safe behaviours that make up our new normal.
Keep your distance at the airport and on the plane. That means paying attention to the markings on the floor whenever you’re in a queue and adhering to the boarding announcements to help the crew manage crowds.
You should also wear a face mask and pack a few extra for long journeys. Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitiser and avoid touching your face as much as you can as per the current guidelines.
Understand Your Destination
The situation can change quite rapidly during a pandemic. Make sure you regularly monitor the COVID situation at your destination so that you are aware of any updates to outbreaks, quarantine requirements or travel restrictions. You should also take a moment to research your airline, departure airport and destination airport for any COVID precautions that may affect your plans. And don’t forget to allow for plenty of extra time for extra COVID checks throughout your journey. Read up on your arrival airport and city’s mandates on masks, and whether they have any special requirements, such as showing proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
Consider Packing Your Own Food
The more you can minimise your contact with others, the better. But on an airline journey you’re probably going to need some food. If your flight is only a few hours, plan to eat a meal before you leave home and pack some snacks to keep you satiated during the flight. Some airlines have limited their food and drink services or suspended them altogether for flights under a certain mileage. And really, you won’t be missing out on much by forgoing airline food!
The same goes for drinks. Staying hydrated is important for staying healthy in general, but especially on a flight. Keep your water intake high and your contact low by bringing a reusable water bottle with you. You can empty it out before you go through security and refill it on the other side. That way you’ll have plenty of water with you during the flight and won’t need to rely on in-flight service to stay hydrated.
Plan Your Bathroom Breaks
It’s also a good idea to go to the bathroom before you board the flight to minimise the number of times you need to visit the bathroom on the plane. Airport bathrooms are more spaced out and less crowded so it will be easier to distance yourself from others.
Prepare for the worst
Take enough clothing, medicine, and any other essential supplies for at least 14 days in the event you need to be quarantined. If you are dependant on medication, take an extra 2 weeks supply. Take note of heart medication, insulin, antidepressants, inhalers, and other prescriptions or over-the-counter medications that may be hard to get when travelling, or that require special storage. There is nothing worse than being somewhere where you can't get the medicine that you need. Certain medications may also be illegal in certain countries and hence unavailable.
You should also plan to take clothing, accessories, and footwear for the weather at any layovers and your final destination. It is quite possible that you may get stuck at any transit point or final destination for an extended period of time.
Pack Carry-On Only
Minimising shared touchpoints is important for safe travel. This includes those that happen behind the scenes with your baggage. If you can, travel with carry-on baggage rather than checked baggage. This way you can limit the number of hands that your luggage passes through. By avoiding checked-luggage you’ll also skip the wait at the collection carousel which will keep you away from crowds and allow you to leave the airport as quickly as possible.
Use Packing Cubes
Travelling can already be a stressful endeavour. Keeping your luggage organised with packing cubes is not only a sanity-saver, in COVID times it can be safer too. If your bags get questioned at a security check, packing cubes will help to minimise the number of touchpoints during the search. Rather than having the agent’s hands touch multiple items as they search through your bag, they’ll only be touching the outside of a few cubes (unless they need to look inside a few). If you use packing cubes that are machine-washable, you can throw them all into the washing machine at your destination as an extra precaution.
If you adopt these tips you can minimise your risk, which is probably a good thing to do even beyond the pandemic to keep ourselves and our community healthy.