10 Things to Know Before Getting on an Airplane

Despite months of lockdown, shelter-in-place orders, and travel restrictions, COVID-19 is still spreading, with rates of infection spiking across the U.S. At the same time, some businesses and states are re-opening, putting more people on the roads and on planes. This has many people asking: Is airplane travel safe?

What Government Agencies Say

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Travel precautions covid 19

With new safety precautions in place by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), urgent or business travel is permitted. But all non-essential domestic travel, which includes holiday and vacation plans, is highly discouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency overseeing health protection at the national level. Furthermore, the US Department of State has also issued a Level 4 warning Do Not Travel advisory for all international transit with very few exceptions.

During this pandemic, all travel, especially by air, increases your chances of being infected and spreading the disease further, including to your loved ones. Traveling by car and supporting local businesses is still an option to help boost the economy. If you must get on a plane, these are the top ten things you should consider first.

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Avoid All Non-Essential Travel

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Avoid nonessential travel covid 19

While some airlines are seeing a surge in summer travel, cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. are also surging, so extra caution is still required. The CDC advises all individuals to avoid non-essential travel and, basically, everything that falls within tourism and recreation is considered non-essential. (Essential travel is harder to define and is often down to personal decisions). In addition to our State Department Level 4 warning restriction on all international travel, the European Union intends to bar entry to people carrying a U.S. passport. For domestic travel, it is harder to stop holiday-goers from taking planes, so the honor system is in place and important to keep everyone safe.

Related: 10 Genius Carry-On Items to Bring for a Better Flight

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Understand the Current Infection Rates

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Research covid 19 infection rates

Even though many of us have been sheltering in place since April, cases of COVID-19 are still on the rise across the US. Check your local news for newly reported cases in your city and state. If your state is a hotspot, stay put to avoid spreading the virus and perpetuating the cycle of contagion. The CDC also has a central database for COVID cases nationally and by state; visit it to check information about your destination. Avoid traveling to areas where infection rates are high and/or rising.

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Know Your Risks

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Covid 19 travel risks

The more people you come into contact with—especially in enclosed places like airports and airplanes—the higher your risk of exposure and infection, and the greater the likelihood of passing the virus on. So before you buy a plane ticket, ask yourself the following questions: Are you or any of your traveling companions at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 (due to age, underlying health conditions, etc.)? If you do contract the virus or come into contact with it, can you take time off work (or work remotely) in order to completely self-quarantine for at least 14 days? Are you comfortable putting yourself, family members, or housemates at higher risk due to plane travel?

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Quarantine Upon Arrival May Be Required

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Covid 19 travel quarantine

International travel is severely restricted, due to a Level 4 travel ban issued by the State Department. The CDC emphasizes that “All international travelers should stay home for 14 days after returning from travel, monitor their health, and practice social distancing.” In addition, some states require a 14-day quarantine period for all out-of-state travelers upon arrival. This list of state travel regulations is regularly updated by USA Today.

Related: Here's What You Do (and Don't) Need During a Quarantine

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Wear a Mask Correctly

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Wearing mask travel covid 19

Major airlines now require passengers to wear face masks over their nose and mouth during flight. Simply inhaling and exhaling can spread COVID-19 through the air, but wearing a mask does slow the spread of coronavirus—and ultimately saves lives—by limiting the spread of germs through respiration. Keep in mind that in a closed plane cabin, air is recycled, and that COVID-19 can be passed without symptoms, so you (or your seatmate) could be a silent carrier. If you’re on the fence about wearing masks, remember this: You’re not just protecting yourself, you’re protecting everyone around you.

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Plan to Practice Social Distancing

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Social distancing travel covid 19

While wearing a mask is crucial, so is social distancing—the CDC cautions people to stand at least 6 feet apart to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This distance very difficult to maintain inside an airplane, especially since some airlines have stopped leaving empty seats between passengers. So research your carrier’s social distancing procedures before you purchase a ticket.

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Comprehend Land Border Travel Restrictions

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Border restrictions covid 19

Land borders between the US and Canada are closed for all non-essential travel too. But travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders within the U.S. are subject to change as the virus surges in different areas. For more information about travel both domestic and international, check out this comprehensive database of U.S. travel restrictions.

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Expect New Security Procedures

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Covid 19 security screening

In an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus via air travel, the TSA is making changes to its security procedures. Social distancing in baggage lines and checkpoint queues is required. TSA officers are required to wear face coverings and gloves. The Agency has also increased the frequency and intensity of cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces and security screening equipment. Also be aware that the TSA will accept expired driver’s licenses or state-issued ID a year after expiration.

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Carry Hand Sanitizer—and Present It for Screening

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Use hand sanitizer plane travel covid 19

Because sanitizing hands is one of the key ways to prevent the spread of disease, the TSA now allows each passenger one liquid hand sanitizer, up to 12 ounces, in a carry-on bag. This exceeds the standard allowance of liquids typically permitted. Take your hand sanitizer from your luggage prior to security, as it will be screened separately. All other liquids, gels, and aerosols are limited to 3.4 ounces (100 ml), and should be carried in a quart-size clear bag.

Related: The 14 Surfaces You Should Be Sanitizing More Often

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Know Which Airports Have More Confirmed Cases of COVID-19

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Research airport safety covid 19

Before confirming your itinerary, take a look at the TSA’s list of confirmed coronavirus cases of airport staff at airports across the US. As you can imagine, larger, more frequented airports are showing spikes in confirmed cases of airport staff, including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth, Newark, Fort Lauderdale, New York (both JFK and LaGuardia), Miami, Orlando, New Orleans, Chicago O’Hare, and Philadelphia. If you still decide to travel, try to avoid busy hubs where infections are spiking.

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