Three months ago, the unexpected took a toll in my life: I was forced to leave college in New York City and take a flight back home to Brazil. Apart from being heartbroken and unprepared for goodbyes, the thought that getting COVID was a direct effect from taking a flight made me panic.
Airplanes are crowded and closed places where air does not seem to circulate a lot. Even at the best of times, people get sick on flights. According to a report by The Business Insider, a study by Emory University shows that if one person in the plane is sick the risk of that person infecting everyone on their role in their aisle, as well as the other roles directly behind or in front of it, is 80%.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic fostered many changes, including the health precautions airlines and airports have to take to prevent the spread of the disease. So what is the new reality of flying? To answer this question that was stuck on my head, I interviewed Brazil’s most famous air travel vlogger and Youtuber (@cariocanomundo), Jayme Drummond.
In our interview, he told me about some of the changes airports and airlines are making due to the pandemic. Airports have put in place check-in areas to separate airport staff and passengers with acrylic plaques. Most VIP waiting rooms are closed- the ones that have reopened do not offer the typical buffet services, and there also are markings on the floor of lines so that passengers maintain a safe distance from each other.
Jayme said that the most surprising change is that airlines are strongly recommending passengers to bring up to 100ml of hand sanitizer to their flights, which was strictly forbidden before the pandemic, because of alcohol’s inflammable properties. Instead of flight attendants doing multiple services at different times, such as checking seat belts and then checking to see if the chairs are inclined, they are doing it once and avoiding contact with the passengers. Perhaps if these changes were made a long time ago, the virus wouldn’t have spread so quickly.
Moreover, Jayme stated that when flights are not full, airlines are spacing out passengers to avoid contact and require that passengers and flight attendants wear masks during the travel. Airlines such as Air France measure the temperatures of passengers before they get into the plane and strictly cleaning the planes before customers board in.
The good news is that modern airplanes are equipped with a filter called HEPA, which eliminates 99.9%of bacterias and viruses. In planes, air circulates vertically- every three minutes, this filter sucks and filters the air.
While I was on a flight from NYC to Rio, they brought me a meal, and immediately I was terrified to eat. It’s true that on-flight meals are one of the most significant issues that airlines face nowadays. I didn’t eat the entire flight; I was too scared to do so, thankfully, I had had dinner beforehand. Something I strongly recommend you doing if you are taking a flight during the pandemic is eating before flying so that you don’t starve during the flight.
“With current aircraft cabin ventilation systems, small droplets can stay in the cabin for about four minutes before they can be extracted by the air-conditioning system,” professor of mechanical engineering Qingyan Chen told “The Guardian” on June 19th. “During that time, small droplets can travel to passengers seated in the same row, and if they’re carrying the virus, they can make them sick.”
Whilst traveling, I tried my best to use the toilet the minimum amount of times; toilets are havens for germs and viruses. Nonetheless, airlines also came with a partial solution to the spread of Covid-19 regarding toilet usage in flights. A report by BBC News stated that the ICAO (The International Civil Aviation Organization) passed on new protocols to airlines, which say that one toilet should be set aside for crew members, and passengers should use a designated bathroom based on where they’re sitting.
Even though airplanes have air ventilation systems, cleaning the air is not immediate. Therefore, if all passengers use masks, everyone’s safe; the problem starts in mealtimes, and passengers have to remove their covers. Many airlines have taken precautions limiting the number of meals and banning alcohol from avoiding infection rates.
So what is the true level of safety for travel during the pandemic?
According to the Wall Street Journal article, The World Health Organization stated that the risk of contracting the COVID while traveling is low given the airplane’s air filters and the new precautions airlines are taking !
Shorter domestic flights might be safer than longer, international ones where you don’t have to eat or use the bathroom, but if like me, you have to take a long flight, it will be safe as long as you take the right protocols.
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