7 things doctors wish patients knew about flying during the Covid

Doctors, nurses and all other medical staff are under immense pressure at this time. January usually brings pressures in the northern hemisphere, as there is the arrival of the flu season. However, this year, these pressures are greater than ever before and our medical teams wish that we would all act more responsibly and stay home. 

Yet, we are also desperate to get away from it all and to experience living once more. And while being crammed into an airplane with a few hundred strangers for hours sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, we just want a holiday. 

Here we explore what the doctors would want to say to you before you boarded the plane.

Flying is safer than you think

Getting on a plane is not the petri dish of germs that you imagine. While there is a risk of spread of the virus when you board a plane, these are no higher than walking down the street. An airplane recycles its air every few minutes, so you are never spending the time in this air needed to spread the virus. Over the period of 2020, there were only 60 cases out of a total of 1.2 billion passengers travelling by air. 

Airports are taking this seriously

While there is excellent air flow, recycling and filtering on the plane, there are also exceptional efforts being made within airports. The group Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA) brings together experts and representatives from all sectors of flying to ensure there is a joint response to public health events.

The advice from CAPSCA has meant that the approach in airports is comprehensive, no matter the destination of your flight.

Think of the whole trip

Despite the safety whilst on the plane, the advice from public health experts is to still not travel. Why? Well, you need to consider the whole of the trip and not just the journey from airport A to airport B. When you arrive at your destination, you will board a train or drive a car. You will then pass through various public places before arriving at your destination. At each moment, you are coming into contact with multiple households and therefore becoming a vector of spread of the virus.

So, while statistics relating to time on the airplane might be low, you have to factor in the moment you walk out your door to the time you arrive in your destination room.

You must wear a mask

If you have to fly, you genuinely must, then it is important that you wear a mask. This mask should fully cover the mouth and nose, as it will reduce the transmission while you are travelling. Although it is tempting to remove the mask when you get to your seat, you shouldn’t. The mask will significantly reduce the exchange of particulates with others on the plane, protecting yourself and your co-passengers.

If you have a cough it can help stop the propulsion of that air from your mouth to another. However, if you are unwell, you should not be flying anyway.

Remain seated

If you are well, you are wearing a mask and you really must travel, a doctor would ask that you stay seated throughout. Why? Well milling around on a plane increases the chance of physical contact with other people. Also, your movement disrupts the natural airflow down the plane. The plane is designed to send air to the back of the plane and the seat in front acts as a barrier to this flow. Therefore, getting up and moving about prevents this from being effective.

Practice sound sanitation

On the best of days, the table you eat from on an airplane is riddled with more germs than a toilet seat. Consequently, a pack of disinfectant wipes could be your best friend as you travel. You should also bring along a bottle of hand sanitiser too, making sure it is in a transparent bottle.

Most importantly, you should make sure you wash your hands at regular intervals. The virus most likely transmits into your system when you touch an object and then touch your face. We unconsciously touch our face regularly through the day, so you can really only protect yourself with regular hand washing.

Quarantine when you arrive

As much as it is upsetting, you do have a duty to stay in place when you arrive at your destination. Even though you had negative tests when you left, you still might be carrying the virus. In the early stages of infection the tests will not pick it up. Therefore, you have a responsibility to wait at least 5 days and then get tested again before going out.

It is tempting to believe that quarantining is overkill and only for those definitely infected. However, being responsible for other people in our community is an essential weapon in the armoury against COVID-19. The virus cannot spread by itself, it needs a host. Therefore, your movement is the perfect ally to its spread. 

While a quarantine period is counter to the possibility of taking a holiday abroad, it could be the way that you could travel to be with family. However, you need to think about this family too. How would you feel if you transported the virus to them?

In short

A doctor would happily tell you that flying is no riskier than any other activity in a pandemic. This is great news for airlines and airports, whose revenue has dropped off a cliff. However, a doctor would also tell you that movement should be avoided in all its forms, as it is the only way the coronavirus can spread. Therefore, before setting off on a trip spend time considering if it is the most responsible thing to do.