Is It Safe To Fly Right Now? The Ultimate Guide To Flying During The Coronavirus Pandemic

If you’ve got an upcoming flight booked, chances are you’re feeling a little nervous right now. Will the flight go ahead? Will you be able to get back? Is it even safe to fly during these uncertain times? Simple Flying attempts to answer some of these questions in our ultimate guide to flying during the coronavirus pandemic.

Is your flight going to take off, will it get you home again, and should you be traveling at all? Photo: Getty

Is it safe to fly?

Flying now, even in the midst of the current crisis, is as safe as it is on any other day. Planes are cleaner than ever; people are exercising precautions while traveling and airports are adopting rigorous screening measures to check people entering and leaving their countries.

Nevertheless, there is an increased risk that comes with traveling in the current climate, and it’s not about COVID-19. The real risk is that you could be stranded a long way from home should the worst happen and borders close.

One of our writers was almost caught out in Poland earlier this week when borders shut, only managing to leave the country with hours to spare. Numerous passengers would have been caught out by Trump’s sudden ban on travelers from the EU. And then, of course, there’s a very real risk that the airline you flew out with could go bankrupt before it can fly you back again.

The best advice in this situation is to make absolutely sure you have adequate travel insurance in place before leaving home. Some insurers have started removing ‘travel disruptions’ from their policies, which means you might not be covered for things like hotels and alternative flights if you airline is unable to repatriate you.

Passengers waiting to board at Hong Kong airport
Read the fine print of your travel insurance to ensure you are covered. Photo: Getty Images

Similarly, you need to read the fine print to ensure your policy covers airline insolvencies. Research in 2017 by Defaqto found that around 50% of policies will cover the cost of repatriating you or providing accommodation in the event that your airline goes bankrupt. These are usually the more expensive policies, but worth the investment to ensure you are protected.

Flying safely – what should you do?

If you are booked to fly and your flight is going ahead, you may well be worried about your own safety as you transit through the airport and spend time on the plane. Most governments are now advising citizens to practice ‘social distancing’, keeping away from other people as much as possible. Clearly, this is not an option when you have to fly, so what can you do to protect yourself?

Firstly, be assured that aircraft have probably never been as clean as they are right now. Under normal circumstances, airlines operate using tight turnaround times, only giving cleaners enough time to give most areas of the plane a cursory dusting over. However, with low travel demand right now and heightened concerns over sanitization, airlines are being far more thorough in their cleaning processes.

Airports too are deploying rigorous cleaning processes to keep the virus away. Photo: Getty

Despite this, you may feel more comfortable if you take your own precautions too. The first thing to ensure is that you’re fit and well to travel. Get enough sleep, eat well and take exercise to give your immune system all the tools it needs to fight infection. If you’re under the weather, it’s a good idea to postpone your travel plans, even if you don’t suspect COVID-19. Most airlines are allowing passengers to reschedule flights for free.

Take hand sanitizer and wipes if they make you feel better; however, be aware that it is not assured that these are effective precautions against COVID-19. Washing hands with soap and water is by far the most effective method of tackling the virus, so do this regularly at all stages of travel. Avoid touching your face at all times, and be sure to wash hands prior to eating anything.

Cleaning your personal area and picking a window seat could help reduce the risk. Photo: Getty

On the plane itself, it can be a good idea to pick a window seat to avoid the passing traffic in the aisle. Wiping down your tray table and seatbelt might help, but most masks have been shown to be ineffective. However, if wearing one makes you feel more comfortable, you’re unlikely to be alone.

When you’re traveling, listen to the advice of your airline and the staff at the airport around you. Be patient; all the screening and checking of passengers is likely to take more time than usual, at both ends of your journey. Most importantly, stay calm, as everyone is in the same boat and panic will get us nowhere!

Extra screening may mean your journey takes longer than planned. Photo: Getty

What is your airline doing?

Most airlines are taking extra precautions to keep aircraft clean and safe during these uncertain times. For information specific to your airline, you should visit their website. However, we have linked some of the world’s major airlines below to make it easier for you.

United Airlines
Check your airline’s website for updates. Photo: Getty

Is your flight operating?

Whether you are booked to fly later in the year or have an upcoming flight soon, the temptation is to call up your airline right away for assurance that the flight is still operating. Chances are that won’t be the best course of action, either for you or the airline, as many are experiencing very long waiting times on their phone lines due to the volume of people trying to get in touch.

The general advice from all airlines is to avoid calling them unless you’re due to travel in the next couple of days. This does vary by airline, but the message from all carriers is the same: please stay off the phone lines unless you’re traveling very soon.

If you are concerned about a forthcoming flight, please rest assured that your airline will contact you in the event that your flight is changed or canceled. Do ensure that your airline has your up to date contact details including email and phone number, and check your junk/spam folder for emails regularly, just in case an important message gets filtered out.

Finally, be sure to follow your airline on social media. Channels such as Facebook and Twitter are regularly updated with the latest information, and with things changing on an hourly basis in the aviation world, keeping in touch this way can be a quick means to gathering the most up to date advice.

One source of information you should not be too reliant on is the airline schedule itself. Airlines are announcing cancellations on a moment by moment basis, so the published schedules can sometimes get outdated. It takes time to update the displayed information, so if you get a notice from your airline that your flight is canceled, even if the schedule says it’s still operating, don’t go to the airport.

What if you get stranded abroad?

If you’ve flown away from home and suddenly found yourself in a locked down country with closed borders, don’t panic. Many airlines, even those that are completely grounding their fleets, have noted that they will keep a few aircraft in service for government coordinated repatriation flights.

Father and son wearing masks on a plane during the coronavirus outbreak
Airlines are working with governments to fly stranded people home. Photo: Getty Images

To ensure your country knows you are stuck away from home, look up the local consulate in the country you’re currently in. Advise them of your situation, offer your contact details and they’ll handle things going forward.

It may take some time, but the majority of the world’s governments are beginning to mobilize rescue efforts to bring their citizens home.

What other questions do you have about traveling during these uncertain times? Let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer.