How To Reduce Your Risk Of Contracting Coronavirus While Travelling

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is advising people to keep at least a 1 meter (3 feet) away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Easier said than done when cramped together with other people on a plane. While it is not possible to control anyone else’s decision to fly or not, there are a few precautions you can take to reduce the risk of contracting the virus when in the air.

While you cannot disinfect the entire aircraft or the people traveling alongside you, there are precautions you can take. Photo: Norwegian

Soap and water

The single most important thing you can do to protect yourself from not only COVID-19 but any virus is to wash your hands frequently. Use regular soap and water, and make sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds. Or, if soap is not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains 60%-90% alcohol.

“Even if there is a virus in the inanimate environment, it’s not going to jump off the seat and bite you in the ankle. You’ve got to touch it, and then touch your nose or your mouth. So it’s those hands we have that are the important intermediary — and that’s where I would put the emphasis,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University’s division of infectious diseases, told CNN Travel. 

It’s still wise, Dr. Schaffner says, to wipe down surfaces of the planes with antibacterial wipes, but ultimately it’s washing your hands that is the most important preventative step. The same is, of course, true for when moving about the airport. 

Try not to touch loose items around the cabin unnecessarily, such as the in-flight magazine, as these are less likely to have been sanitized between trips. It is probably advisable to resist the in-flight duty-free as well. In fact, some airlines, like Cathay Pacific have removed these entirely from their flights. 

Father and son wearing masks on a plane during the coronavirus outbreak
Masks may provide a false sense of security when traveling, but they do keep help contaminated people from spreading the virus. Photo: Getty Images

To mask or not to mask

While stocks of face masks are reportedly running out across affected areas, experts say they have not been proven a very effective means of protection from infectious diseases. However, if a contagious individual wears them, it could stop the virus from being transferred from that person. 

People worry about sharing the air in the aircraft cabin, but in fact, cabin air is relatively safe, with air filters resembling those used in surgical theatres. With the exception of some smaller or much older aircraft, planes are equipped with True High-Efficiency Particle Filters or High-Efficiency Particle Filters (HEPA) that work overtime to keep the air cleaner than in most office buildings. And, it is important to remember that so far, not a single case of COVID-19 has been attributed to airplane on-board transmission.

Emirates, economy, Airbus a380
Choose a window seat as far upfront as possible to lessen the risk of contamination. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Choose your seat

The WHO defines contact with an infected person as being seated within two rows of one another. But, of course, people do not just sit during flights, especially if they last for more than a couple of hours. They also move about the cabin, particularly on their way to the toilets.

As reported by National Geographic, according to a study by the “FlyHealthy Research Team,” conducted as a result of the SARS outbreak in 2003, the persons least likely to become infected, are those in the window seat and towards the front of the cabin.

Have you changed your travel plans as a result of the coronavirus outbreak? Are you more aware of the potential risk of contagion when traveling? Let us know in the comments.