COVID Practices for Plane Travel

August 2020

COVID Practices for Plane Travel

Traveling on a plane for the first time since January 2020 can with some mix emotions. I love flying, I love airports, and truly enjoy the process of traveling. I know some people tolerate it as a means to an end but I really like it! So to have the opportunity to get back on a plane again was exciting. However, it was counterbalanced by anxiety, concern and a dash guilt. Anxiety for the new process, that something I could do with my eyes closed now looked different. Anxiety that I had to rely on other people to follow the rules and do the right thing. Concern that we were participating in a “high risk” activity. Concern that things could go wrong or have plans changed without notice. And a dash of guilt – should we even be doing this? What is we get COVID? We do not “have to go on this trip” so should we?

Ultimately, our first flight experience overall was positive and I have an entire post of the specifics of the airport and plane rides here. For this post, I wanted to share the precautions we took and the personal protective equipment we chose. This does not mean it is right for you, or right in general but based on the research I have done, this is how we did it.

First, it is important to evaluate the airlines that the COVID precautions they have in place. Almost all airlines require face masks but only a handful are limited the number of passengers and even fewer are blocking middle seats. We chose to fly with Alaska because they are blocking middle seats which significantly lowers the number of people on the flight. 

Since most airlines are not reducing capacity by a third and blocking middle seats, another strategy is to fly off peak times. Flying during the week instead of the weekends and early morning departures vs evening ones can be ways to trying to have a less filled flight. 

As a part of our carry on items, I packed a COVID canvas bag as my personal item full of all my new COVID fighting goodies. You can read the entire post of each item in the COVID here – COVID Items to Pack in your Carry On Bag!

Personal Protective Equipment

  • We wore a well fitted KN95 mask with a surgical mask on top. I felt protected by wearing these two masks. Remember to not touch the outside of the mask once it is on – that is where the bad guys get stuck and by touching the mask, you can get germs on your hands that can then make it into your body.

Cleaning Items

  • I brought a full container of Clorox disinfecting wipes and boy, I wiped everything. The airline we flew, Alaska airlines, left all middle seats open (THANK YOU) so Kevin and I had the row to ourselves. You can read the entire post of each item in the COVID here – coming soon!
  • Make sure you know the contact time of the disinfecting wipes you are using – read the instructions on the back! It is not a wipe and done approach – the surface has to stay wet for a set amount of minutes (contact time) for the surface to be properly disinfected of all the germs it is said to kill. The ones I brought had a 4 minute contact time – some are less, some are more. 

Parts of the plane I cleaned (it’s everything – surprise!)

  • First I cleaned the head rests, and then the rest of the seats.
  • Then I moved on to the arm rests (which every time I wiped found lots of dirt).
  • I moved onto the window and the wall (Kevin liked to rest his head there for sleeping).
  • Look up and I cleaned all the buttons, lights, air flow dials, etc. 
    • Turn on the air – when I cleaned the air dials above us, I made sure to put them in the wide open position. The air coming out of these vents is HEPA filtered so take advantage of having clean air blown in your face. Because of this, expect to be a bit chillier than normal on the planes. I am always cold on the plane as it is so I made sure to bring another layer of warmth.
  • Finally I cleaned the back of the seat in front of us. While I had no intention of us using the tray table, I still cleaned it. I also cleaned the USB charging port since we would probably use those. And do not stick anything in that pocket… ew. 

Know what you want to have available in flight before the flight 

  • Make sure you have all the items you want to entertain yourself on the flight ahead of time. Items such has head phones, phone chargers, kindle, etc – keep them nearby but do not place them in the seat pocket in front of you.
  • If possible, really keep these items to a minimum so you have less to worry about. 
  • Important to sanitize those items when you leave the plane so you do not risk contaminating all of your things. This was another advantage of the COVID bag – all the “clean” items were bagged up in sandwich baggies and then everything else in there could be sanitized without infecting everything in the bag. 

Do not eat (or at least not with the entire plane)

  • I found this to be a bit odd. The airline handed out snacks and personal sized drinks. Each time I refused the service. When these are passed out, everyone on the plane took their mask off and ate the snack and drinks their beverage. So almost everyone on the plane had their mask of at the same time. This is the most risky time during the entire flight in my opinion. We kept our masks on.
  • I would suggest if you had to eat or drink, do so at at time when the majority of the plane has their masks on. Either eat before the snack service or WAIT until everyone else is finished and has their mask back on. I made sure we ate big meals right before we got on the plane – I found an unoccupied part of the terminal were we would safely take our masks off and eat to avoid needing to do so while in flight. 

COVID Testing

  • As a responsible traveler, I think it is critical to have frequent COVID tests before traveling (and as close to the travel day as possible) and after traveling to ensure you are not an asymptomatic spreader. I know access to tests can be tricky but I will share what we have done.
  • The state of Alaska required a COVID test with a negative result within 72 hours of travel so we knew going in we were safe going. On our return, we landed Sunday morning at 6AM and got COVID tested that afternoon. We figured this would be a good time to test how the first flight and the first half of the trip went (8-10 days post exposure if when symptoms or viral load begins to ramp up). We waited another 8-10 days after our flight home to get a second COVID test to confirm we were all good as well.
  • Not sure what test to get? Here is a great link describing the different types of tests on the FDA website. Alaska (as most states for travel purposes) require a PCR test to be done so make sure before you get your test done you validate which kind of test it is.
  • If you are looking to see if you have an active COVID virus, you have to get the molecular / PCR test (typically nasal swab or saliva collection). The antibody test does NOT tell you if you have the active virus and is NOT accepted by states for entry. Make sure you are getting the right test done. It is far easier to get the antibody test than the PCR test so do your research.
  • We have used Project Baseline through RiteAid, Pixel through Labcorp, and have even found urgent cares that perform the rapid antigen test.
  • thermometer and pulse oximeter –  I monitored our temperature and pulse ox daily when away to catch any early signs of illness. While a fever can mean many things, having a decreased pulse ox (less than 95%) has been one of the symptoms (along with loss of taste and smell) that can help differentiate a fever or sick feeling for a regular old virus from COVID. This is probably unnecessary for most people but I want to be a responsible traveler with peace of mind.

Was all this over kill? Maybe. But it made me feel a lot better, didn’t hurt anyone, just more work for me. I have to say I was surprised at how few people I observed wiping down their plane seat area but maybe I am the crazy one – doesn’t bother me one bit.

Read about Our Experience Flying with Alaska Airlines in August 2020!

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