Travelling during a Pandemic | Airline Precautions

As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues the question on everyone’s mind is when, and more importantly how will business travel resume?

Airlines are instituting varying precautions as part of their campaigns to encourage travellers to fly during the pandemic, and to further reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Although the overall risk of contracting covid-19 on an airliner is low, the effectiveness of precautions put in place varies. When evaluating the risk of flying during the pandemic, travellers should consider the precautionary measures airlines are taking ensure passenger safety.

Airline Social Distancing Policies

Some airlines are encouraging social distancing by leaving certain seats unsold on flights, to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. This is subject to controversy as some airlines insist it is an ineffective method, noting that passengers on flights with social distancing are still closer than six feet together. Overall, the main benefit to social distancing onboard flights is that it reduces the number of passengers onboard the aircraft, thus reducing risk of exposure to covid-19.

Airline Mask Requirements

As recommended by governments worldwide, most major airlines require passengers to wear masks at all times onboard their aircraft to the risk of COVID-19 transmission in flight. While wearing a surgical or cloth mask provides little protection for the wearer, health officials have stated that it does reduce the risk of an infected wearer transmitting COVID-19 to another person.

Altered Boarding Processes

Several airlines have altered boarding processes in response to the pandemic. The most common has been to board the aircraft from the rear to the front, which theoretically reduces the likelihood that travellers seated in different parts of the cabin will come into close contact. In practice however unfamiliar boarding processes could potentially cause confusion for passengers, creating congregations.

Enhanced Aircraft Cleaning

As with all public transport, airlines have implemented more rigorous standards for cleaning and disinfecting aircraft between flights. This procedure reduces the chance of transmitting COVID-19 from passengers on a previous flight, however does little to reduce the chances of COVID-19 transmission between passengers on the same flight. The US Centre’s for Disease Control has suggested COVID-19 transmission is not spread through contaminated surfaces suggesting that Improved cleaning standards may not be as effective as first thought.

Pre-Flight Health Screening

Travelling now requires passengers to answer several questions about their health prior to boarding flights, either via an app or in person. These health screenings are intended to prevent passengers with COVID-19 symptoms from boarding a flight, but screenings are ineffective at identifying passengers with asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic cases of COVID-19. Some airlines have gone further and are requiring passengers to take COVID-19 tests prior to boarding a flight or provide a certificate evidencing a negative COVID-19 test within a certain time prior to flight.

Traveller Precautions 

In addition to the airline precautionary measures travellers themselves can take steps to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 during air travel, regardless of what precautions their airline takes. Reducing time spent in the airport can reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. This can be done by checking in online before arrival, only bringing carry-on luggage, traveling at off-peak times, and using less-busy security checkpoints if the airport layout allows it. Avoid shops and restaurants if possible, and follow strict hygiene precautions, including regular hand washing and use of hand sanitizer. 

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