What are the risks of flying during Coronavirus?

Many borders have reopened for non-essential travel for the first time since the pandemic started – good news for anyone planning a holiday. Like us, you’re probably wondering is flying safe right now? We’ve looked at some of the biggest risks and spoken with people who’ve flown recently to understand how to mitigate them. Here are some to watch out for:

  • Airports are places where people from around the world mix and mingle which could be bad news for keeping coronavirus contained.
  • It can be hard for people to stick to social distancing guidelines on a plane. 
  • There are also lots of common touchpoints that could carry the virus. 
  • Due to fast-changing circumstances flights may be canceled at short notice causing disruption to travel plans.
  • Airport staff are required to take passengers’ temperatures and send them home if it’s higher than 37 degrees Celsius.
  • Check local authority advice. You may need to fill in a health declaration and/or locator forms and bring them to the airport.

Traveler opinion: The risks of flying during Coronavirus

“Before flying I was worried that I might not be able to make it back to Singapore where I live due to the situation changing while I was abroad.” 

Natalie, PR Manager, Skyscanner

“I was worried that one of the flights would get canceled, which would have been very disruptive!”

Emma, Global SEO Manager, Skyscanner

What should I consider before booking a flight during Coronavirus?

Always check government travel advice before booking as this may change at short notice. We also recommend checking arrivals and departures for regular service disruptions which may help you decide how to travel. It’s always a good idea to review your airline’s cancellation policy so you know what to do should your flight get canceled. 

Check local authority advice for your destination such as government and public health websites. You may be required to bring additional documentation including a health declaration or locator form so you can be contacted. Following these steps will mitigate many of the risks involved making it safer to fly.

Traveler tips: Things to consider before booking a flight during Coronavirus

“I downloaded my entry forms in advance and had someone standing by to verify my reasons for traveling.”

Nicole, Head of Global Marketing, Social and Community, Skyscanner

“I checked the best route on Skyscanner and then to see whether that route was operating frequently and without disruption. Once I was confident there weren’t any issues, I went ahead and booked. I also made sure to order face masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues in advance.” 

Emma, Global SEO Manager, Skyscanner

“I called the border police to make sure I had understood the restrictions before booking my flight. I bought hand wipes so I could disinfect surfaces and personal belongings, like my passport, when traveling.”

Marco, Data Scientist, Skyscanner
Holidaymakers are asking is flying safe right now.

What are airlines doing to reduce the risks of flying?

In light of how coronavirus has made it difficult to plan ahead, airlines have introduced flexible fares to help people book with confidence. Airlines are also taking extra measures to make it safer to fly. These precautions include handing out personal protective equipment like face shields and asking passengers to socially distance during boarding.

Many airlines have stopped their in-flight meals and duty-free services. Bad news for those who can’t resist some retail therapy at 30,000 feet but good for minimizing human contact. Some airlines are keeping the middle seat empty for social distancing and asking passengers not to leave their seats unless using the restrooms. 

Examples of airlines current COVID-19 policies

American Airlines: American is distributing sanitizing wipes or gels and face masks to customers. Masks will be required for flight attendants during every mainline and regional flight.

Delta: Delta is blocking middle-seat selection, and capping cabin seating through September 30th. State-of-the-art air circulation systems with industrial-grade HEPA filters extract more than 99.99% of particles, including viruses.

JetBlue:  Increased the frequency with which staff are cleaning common surfaces in our airport terminals with a hospital-grade disinfectant and deep cleans of aircraft each night.

Air Canada: Introduced Air Canada CleanCare+including health screening questions, pre-flight infrared temperature checks for customers, and the disinfection of frequently touched areas.

Swoop: Travelers are encouraged to wear a face-covering or mask as much possible at all points in their journey. All travelers, aged two years and older, will undergo a temperature check before boarding.

Traveler experience: what airlines doing to reduce the risks of flying 

“I chose tickets with a flexible refund policy just in case I needed to change my flight due to an unexpected situation.”

Natalie, PR Manager, Skyscanner

“Everyone had to wear a mask and fill out a form before boarding, stating that they didn’t have any symptoms.”

Emma, Global SEO Manager, Skyscanner

“The middle seats were empty. However, the plane was nearly full so in the end, there wasn’t much social distancing.”

Marco, Data Scientist, Skyscanner 
It's more important than ever to plan ahead when flying during coronavirus.

What are airports doing to reduce the risks of flying? 

Airlines aren’t the only ones taking extra precautions to make flying safer during coronavirus. Airports have introduced a slew of new measures to minimize the risks of flying during coronavirus. Passengers must check-in online before arriving at the airport or use self-service kiosks. This measure is intended to reduce human contact.

Airport staff are taking passengers’ temperatures using touchless thermometers before boarding and sending people home if it exceeds 37 degrees Celsius. There are also more hand sanitizing stations positioned throughout airports. Some countries including China and Japan may introduce sanitization tunnels for disinfecting passengers from head to toe.

Traveler experience: what airports doing to reduce the risks of flying

“The shops at Heathrow were closed and there were distancing lines painted on the floor at security.”

Marco, Data Scientist, Skyscanner

“Duty-free shops were closed, passengers had their temperatures taken, and there were signs on chairs and benches asking people not to sit close to one another. I had to submit my contact numbers and resident address so that the civil servant could check my quarantine for 14 days.”

Natalie, PR Manager, Skyscanner

“While waiting to board at Edinburgh airport everyone stood two meters apart. At Copenhagen airport, everyone waited in their own little “square” at luggage collection.”

Emma, Global SEO Manager, Skyscanner

What precautions can I take to try and stay safe if I fly? 

The most effective advice comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) which recommends regularly cleaning your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water. 

Make sure to wear a face mask while traveling. They’re one of the best ways to avoid contracting the virus. Most medical face masks are effective for around four hours so make sure you bring spare in case of delays. Stay on the safe side and pack hand wipes, sanitizing gel, and disposable gloves.

Take your temperature before leaving for the airport and make sure you’re not experiencing any symptoms. Airports and airlines are trusting travelers to stay home if they’re feeling unwell and airport staff are taking passengers’ temperatures before boarding.  

Global aviation agencies are advising passengers to check-in online where possible and complete their statement of health prior to checking in. We recommend checking that you have any additional documentation required from your intended destination. Finally, consider taking a shorter flight as this will reduce the need to use the restrooms or eat while traveling. 

Traveler tips: How to keep yourself safe 

“I took a spare face mask and travel size sanitizer in my backpack so that I could use them while traveling.”

Natalie, PR Manager, Skyscanner

“I wore a mask at the airport and on the plane and frequently washed my hands throughout the journey. I was extra conscious not to touch my face and didn’t eat or drink as that would have meant removing the face mask.”

Emma, Global SEO Manager, Skyscanner

“I made sure to bring portable sanitizer and wear a face mask the whole time. I noticed that some people also wore medical gloves and had plastic coats over their clothes.”

Marco, Data Scientist, Skyscanner
Stay safe while flying by following advise on government and airline websites.

So, is flying safe right now?

The situation is constantly changing, so we suggest checking the latest government advice before deciding whether or not to travel. If you decide to fly, you can take comfort in the fact that some experts are saying you’re no more at risk on a plane than any other indoor space, perhaps less so. 

“Airflow on planes is less conducive to droplet spread than other indoor environments,” says Dr. David Powell, a medical advisor for the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “Flow rates are high, directed in a controlled manner (from ceiling to floor), to limit mixing, and the use of High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters ensures that the air supply is pure.” 

Make sure to stock up on personal protective equipment, regularly wash your hands, avoid touching your face as much as possible, and stick to social distancing guidelines. That way you’ll have taken every precaution available to minimize the risks. 

Traveler opinion: how safe flying is right now 

“100% – I don’t think it’s ever been safer! However,  I am saying this as someone who isn’t at risk. Those with personal risk factors should consider waiting longer before traveling unless for an emergency.”

Nicole, Head of Global Marketing, Social and Community, Skyscanner

“If airports become too full, it will be difficult to practice social distancing and have the same measurements in place. It’s also dependent on individuals definitely not flying if they have any symptoms and following hygiene guidelines.”

Emma, Global SEO Manager, Skyscanner 

“Airports and airlines seem very ready to take travelers and overall I felt safe. The hard part for me was preparing for unexpected situations, like not being able to come home for some time.”

Natalie, PR Manager, Skyscanner