How to protect yourself from coronavirus when flying

Posted at 11:42 AM, Mar 02, 2020

The threat from COVID-19 or coronavirus has a lot of people re-thinking their travel plans for this spring, or at least taking extra precautions if they have a flight coming up.

So, what is the best way for travelers to protect themselves from germs and viruses while flying?

It's a real concern to Cynthiann Kesterson of Texas, who just flew with her young son.

"We have to keep him germ-free. Safe. It's a crazy world out there now," she said.

Kesterson was extra careful on her trip.

"I just try to wash everything down, wash our hands when we get off the plane, and use lots of good old soap and water," she said.

With COVID-19 dominating the headlines, some travelers have begun wearing face masks. Others carried their own blankets to avoid germs.

"I stay in my seat buckled up, and bring my own blanket," one traveler said.

What airlines are doing to keep planes clean

So how often are airlines cleaning their cabins?

All major airlines say they do a full cabin cleaning, wiping down their seats and tray tables at the end of the flying day. But a recent report in Travel and Leisure claimed that many airlines only change blankets and pillows overnight, meaning that used blankets may be in the overhead bins on late-day flights.

Some airlines, however, now do a disinfectant wipedown between every flight leg for extra safety.

Rick Pawlak, the Vice President and Markerting Director of Ultimate Air Shuttle, a regional airline based in northeast Ohio, said the airline has stepped up their disinfecting, and wipe down seats, tray tables, armrests, and even seat belts after every trip.

"Our flight attendants wipe down the seats before they fly every segment, and we also have masks on board in case we spot somebody who is sick," Pawlet said.

Of course, even if airlines wipes down their equipment between use, it's still a good idea to bring some disinfectant wipes and wipe down tray tables and armrests, just to be safe.

Doctors say most viruses are transferred by touching, not just through the air.

So, traveler Carol Walton was taking extra precautions.

"I was concerned," she said. "I brought sanitizer, I brought wipes, and wiped everything around me down."

Will a face mask protect you?

The CDC does not recommend face masks for healthy travelers , and doctors say masks must meet or exceed the quality of an N95 respirator mask to block cold and virus particles.

Lightweight paper masks offer little protection, and anyone wearing them may end up touching their face more just to keep them adjusted, which then spreads germs from hand to face.

What about the cabin air?

Airline AC systems use HEPA filters to remove almost all airborne germs and particles before the air comes out of the ceiling vent.

Airlines say the air coming out of the vent is cleaner than the air around the seat, so leave the vent on during your flight.

Doctors say if travelers wash their hands frequently and use disinfectant wipes on a plane, they improve their chances of staying they don't waste your money.


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