Coronavirus & Aviation – What You Need To Know

Today we found out that Thai Airways will be fumigating its aircraft arriving from China and other risk areas to combat the spread of the coronavirus. However, it’s far from the only airline adapting its operations to the new, highly-contagious virus. In fact, Cathay Pacific crew will be allowed to wear facemasks, China Airlines will not provide inflight services on certain flights, and several airlines will allow free flight changes on services bound for China and Hong Kong. So as an air traveler and passenger, what do you need to know?

Wuhan Coronavirus
Passengers are being screened for the Wuhan Coronavirus at terminals in China. Photo: Getty

This coronavirus ‘spreads before symptoms show’

According to the BBC, the incubation period for humans (the time when a person has the disease without presenting symptoms) ranges from one to 14 days. This, say health officials, increases the threat greatly as a person may not know they have the infection for quite some time. During this incubation period, the unknowingly-infected are still able to spread the virus as they go normally about their daily lives.

This coronavirus stands in stark contrast to Sars and Ebola, where the infected are only contagious once symptoms appear.

Build healthy habits

Therefore, it is extremely important, especially while traveling, to practice healthy habits. This includes protocols most people would undertake for general cleanliness including:

  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Practice proper coughing etiquette (into your elbow or armpit), not coughing into the environment.
  • More specific to air travel, consider bringing your own wipes on the plane to wipe down seatbacks, tray tables, and armrests – and perhaps the area around the window where a passenger would lean their head.

“Keep some distance from people who are obviously sick and maintain good personal hygiene,” -Dr. Paulo Alves, Global medical director at MedAire via the New York Times

Coronavirus & Aviation – What You Need To Know
A Chinese health worker checks the temperature of a woman entering a subway station during the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival. Photo: Getty Images

Depending on your location, it may be advisable to wear a facemask as some flight attendants are doing. If you choose to do this, be aware of the type of mask as some types may not be effective at protection. N95 respirators are designed to prevent 95% of small particles from entering the nose and mouth area. But they only work if they fit properly. These masks aren’t suitable for children or people with facial hair, according to New Scientist.

Some airlines, like EVA Air, are even making them available for passengers:

“We make N95 respirator masks and medical masks available on all EVA flights. To safeguard against further spread of the coronavirus, help contain the outbreak and serve passengers’ demands, EVA has increased its supply of sanitary masks on flights to/from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau”

Reconsider your travel plans

On January 27th the United States Center for Disease Control issued updated travel guidance for China, recommending that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to all of the country.

In addition to the potential health risk, travelers should reconsider travel to China as tourists as some popular attractions have been closed. Sites include The National Museum of China in Beijing, Beijing’s Forbidden City, the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China, Shanghai Disney Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland Park.


Many airlines are offering free flight changes

According to The Points Guy, you should be eligible for a full refund on the following Chinese carriers:

  • Air China
  • Capital Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Cathay Dragon
  • China Southern
  • Chengdu Airlines
  • Mandarin Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China United Airlines
  • Juneyao Airlines
  • Lucky Air
  • Hainan Airlines
  • OK Air, Scoot
  • Shandong Airlines
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Spring Airlines
  • Suparna Airlines
  • Tianjin Airlines
  • West Air
  • Urumqi Air
  • Xiamen Air

The three major U.S. carriers, American, United, and Delta, are offering certain waivers for flight changes on their services to Chinese cities. Air Canada and British Airways are offering similar ‘goodwill policies’ for select flights as well.

There are date restrictions so it is advised to check your airline’s website if you have plans.

British Airways, China, Coronavirus
Precautions are being taken around the world to try and limit the spread of the virus. Photo: Getty Images


Given how contagious this particular virus is and the fact that it has a lengthy incubation period where no symptoms are present, travelers are reminded to take this very seriously. Simple Flying is committed to updating its readers on the state of this virus and its impact on air travel and will continue to monitor the situation as it develops.

Have you and your travel plans been impacted by the coronavirus? Or will you be changing your travel plans due to the current situation? Let us know in the comments.