As of today there are almost 170k confirmed deaths in the US and quickly climbing. The CDC recommends avoiding nonessential travel, however many people have started to travel again. I can’t tell you not to travel, but I can give you some knowledge of the current situation and tips on how to prepare.
As a flight attendant, I admit traveling is a risky decision, wherever you choose to go. If you’re traveling within the US, drive if it’s feasible. If you’re traveling abroad, be mindful and take extra precautions. While I chose to take a leave of absence from flying in mid-March when this all began, my friends have kept me informed on changes as well as my weekly company emails. Below are a few things anyone considering traveling should know before getting on a plane. Full disclosure- I fly for a major airline, so I can only speak for their policies, so before you fly, look up your airlines policies and safety measures. Be aware that you may have to quarantine coming back from certain locations, domestic and international.
#1 Any article stating air travel poses no risk, is flawed
An article was recently released, stating flying is as safe as being in a train or car because of HEPA filters that recirculate the air every 3 minutes. While this sounds lovely in theory, as someone who’s flown 100+ hours a month since 2014, I offer a counter thought. Besides the fact that I personally know of a few flight attendants that have had the virus. There’s something to be said about your health being compromised while flying to begin with. Besides the normal jet lag, when I first started flying, I was sick often, just based on the nature of the job. I developed blocked ears, vertigo, chronic sinus infections, all things I learned to manage. Since I’ve stopped flying, all those things have gone away. Coincidence? Probably not. All that to say, these are common health risks that are associated with flying without adding a pandemic to the mix. I wouldn’t put too much weight into what any article has to say, unless it’s a peer reviewed study based on US rates of contraction.
#2 Wear a mask or don’t fly
This is a no brainer, but it’s 2020 so anything logical has clearly gone out the window. This isn’t political, it’s science. If you choose to fly, wear a mask. It’s an act of respect for your fellow passengers and crew members that could be immunocompromised. It also lessens the chances that you’ll actually catch or spread Covid. A lot of people are uncomfortable or claustrophobic wearing masks. I get this and I sympathize. There are many mask options as well, so try some on and find something that’s comfortable but also breathable. Unfortunately I don’t think the mask rule is going anywhere anytime soon. My flight attendant friends have shared stories of people reverting to childlike behavior, in order to not wear a mask. One guy pretended he was eating every time a flight attendant walked by so he wouldn’t have to wear a mask. FYI – Flight attendants see your antics from a mile away. We have seen it all, so you’re better off telling us about your flying anxiety, we’d be more sympathetic. If you simply don’t care to wear it, don’t bother buying a plane ticket.
#3 Flight crews are dealing with a lot of stress, be considerate
This brings me to an important point, think of flight crews. This year has been rough on everyone but especially on essential workers. Put yourself in a flight attendants shoes: theres’s a pandemic raging and you are an essential employee. You go to work anxious (maybe you have a sickly family member at home or maybe you just don’t want to bring anything home with you) but do what you can to prevent exposure at every step. Then you get on the plane only to receive complaints or be disrespected from passengers for trying to keep everyone safe. Let me be clear, flight attendants are hired primarily to enforce safety not to cater to passengers. Part of flying safely these days, is wearing masks. My airline has taken enforcement so seriously that it’s banning passengers temporarily for refusing to wear masks. On top of all this many flight crews have to quickly figure out their plan B in case they get furloughed, possibly for years. Meanwhile others, are pondering if they will be forced to retire early. All of the previously mentioned is enough to trigger anxiety and stress in anyone, let alone someone who’s whole career is based on the aviation industry. There is a lot at stake behind the scenes that most people don’t know about. If you fly, please be kind and considerate.
#4 The same issues still exist as well as new issues
A common complaint I’ve heard from my flying buddies is that people think just because not as many people are flying it means that other issues shouldn’t exist. Meaning, there will still be weather delays, mechanicals, medical emergencies, only now with the added variable of Covid and any related issues. What I’m really saying is, at best expect a less than ideal flying experience and at worst an increasingly stressful one. Again, the big theme here is to be mindful.
#5 To avoid or minimize most stressors, come prepared
Things have changed a lot since the pandemic started. Virtually every week I get an email about further changes. It’s hard to keep up even for me, but the best tip I can give anyone thinking of traveling, is come prepared. I have been toying with the idea of traveling myself and I’ve thought about how I would do it. Pack snacks/meals/drinks for the duration of the flight. The less contact and movement around the plane, the better. Bring wipes, hand sanitizer, a pen (for filling out forms) and plane clothes (to be washed immediately after). Bring multiple masks, glasses of any sort (particles can go in through your eyes), beats and multiple types of headsets so you don’t have to ask for any. Basically think of everything you would need or ask for on a flight and just bring it yourself. If you go to the bathroom bring your own wipes. I know it’s gross but wipe down what you would use. People have no idea how dirty aircraft bathrooms get. Hundreds of people use them and airlines have less than ideal cleaning methods.
All of the above may sound scary but it’s not meant to be. As a person with anxiety, I always prefer to know as much as I can about any situation I’m apprehensive about. Even if experts say it’s okay to start flying, it doesn’t mean one should drop their guard. It’s been made abundantly clear that even the experts are learning as they go, so better to be safe than sorry. I try to keep it as real on here as possible. It’s a personal choice to travel, so taking precautions is simply a part of being a responsible traveler.