The new coronavirus outbreak has changed air travel for the time being. Airlines have cut domestic and international flights and eliminated some onboard amenities. Companies have put restrictions on business — and even personal. Measures are being taken on all sides of the travel industry to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Although some people are choosing to forgo travel while the global health crisis looms with uncertainty, many are continuing to fly. Here's what you can do to stay healthy if you board a plane.
Understand the risks before you travel. Before booking your flight, make sure you're aware of the status of the coronavirus outbreak in your final destination.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a searchable COVID-19 risk assessment by country on its website for anyone concerned about travel plans. Both China and Iran have been issued Level 3 Travel Health Notices, meaning the CDC recommends holding off on nonessential travel to those countries. The State Department is updating its travel advisories in response to the outbreak.
The CDC asks individuals to self-quarantine for 14 days after a trip to a high-risk area. You’re also asked to practice social distancing — avoiding public transportation, ride-share services, taxis, and crowded places, as well as staying about six feet away from other people.
Maintain good hand hygiene. There's a reason everyone's talking about washing their hands. It's one of the best ways to protect yourself from spreading diseases.
Although there is no vaccine to prevent contracting COVID-19, the CDC recommends washing your hands "often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing."
In between handwashing, do your best to avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose, and eyes.
Not touching your face “is the one behavior that would be better than any vaccine ever created," William Sawyer, a family doctor in Sharonville, Ohio, and founder of Henry the Hand, a nonprofit organization that promotes hand hygiene, told the Washington Post.
"Just stop this simple behavior,” he said. “Stop picking, licking, biting, rubbing. It's the most effective way to prevent a pandemic."
If you don't have access to soap and water, opt for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Skip masks, unless you're sick. You'll see plenty of people traveling through airports wearing face masks, but most people that isn't something recommended by health experts. The CDC says healthy people do not need to wear a face mask as protection against COVID-19.
"Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others," the CDC website says. "The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings [at home or in a health care facility]."
Amy Shah, a double board-certified medical doctor in allergy and immunology, said standard face masks you can find online — if you can find any — aren’t very helpful against viruses.
"Is it bad? No," she said. "It's not like it's harmful. But will it completely protect you? No."
Instead, Shah recommends bolstering your own immune system by getting good sleep, practicing stress control, eating vitamin C in the form of food (oranges and leafy greens), and being diligent about washing your hands frequently with water and antibacterial soap for at least 20 seconds.
Clean communal surfaces. Once upon a time, it seemed excessive to wipe down your personal space on an airplane. In the wake of the coronavirus, the practice is now being recommended by health professionals.
Robert Quigley, regional medical director for travel risk mitigation company International SOS, said "thoroughly wiping down surfaces while traveling is 'always in order,' because many viruses and bacteria can survive on objects."
It's still not known how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces, but the CDC has not ruled out the possibility that it can be contracted from touching one's mouth, nose, or eyes after touching a surface exposed to the virus.
The CDC is urging people to clean and disinfect frequently used objects and surfaces that you touch with your hands, so bring aboard disinfectant wipes to clean the armrests, tray table, and in-flight entertainment system.
Choose a window seat. Some medical professionals recommend getting a window seat on a plane to avoid catching an illness in-flight, noting that aisle seats have more access to potentially-sick passengers.
Vicki Hertzberg, a professor in Emory University's School of Nursing and the first author on a Boeing-funded study on transmission of respiratory diseases on planes published two years ago, said: "I take a window seat, and I don't get up."