How to avoid being infected with COVID-19 at the airport

It is easy to imagine that getting on board the airplane is when you are at your most vulnerable to contracting coronavirus. However, the airflow and air recycling on an airplane make it relatively unlikely that you will become ill from the virus this way. Experts suggest that of the more than 2 billion flights taken, only 60 of them can be definitely attributed to the pandemic.

The same cannot be true in the airport. In fact, scientists are clear that your chances of being infected with coronavirus in the airport are at their highest, as people fail to social distance and wear a mask. Those visiting airports report that people are wandering around without any face covering at all and most with their nose exposed. This left some feeling exposed and vulnerable.

It is true that airports are making a significant effort in cleaning measures around the terminals, they are doing little to police the behaviour of passengers. Maybe the issue is that people feel protected because of the extreme cleaning, robots and dogs sniffing out COVID. However, in truth, only with individual responsibility and personal action can the threat be truly countered.

So, how can you protect yourself? Here we explore the ways you play a part in reducing the chance of spread of COVID-19 at the airport. 

Know the risks

One of the first ways you can ensure personal responsibility in airports is by understanding the risks you are taking. At a high level, it means being sure you understand the consequences to yourself and your loved ones if you choose to travel at all. There are stay at home orders for a reason. The virus can only spread if we move. Consequently, your first calculation should be whether this journey is worth the life of someone close to you – if not, don’t go.

If it is an emergency and the flight cannot be avoided, then research the airport you are departing from and arriving at. Some airports have better safety protocols than others. You should be comfortable that the mitigation efforts they are putting in place are enough to keep you safe. There are scorecards about COVID mitigation in airports but you are still best to do your research. You can do this by looking out for signage that describes the cleaning process in detail. Really you want the airport to undertake a two step cleaning process: first with soap and water and second with disinfectant. There should also be clear signage indicating when staff were last in the area and when they are due to clean next.

Take personal precautions

While the cleaning robots at airports look pretty cool and the engineering behind them insane, they cannot replace the responsibility you take to avoid person-to-person transmission.

If you are going into an airport where there is a chance of coming into contact with multiple households, you need to up your levels of preparation. For instance, rather than just a cotton face covering, you may wish to purchase a KN95 mask used by medical professionals. You should also consider carrying disinfectant spray and wipes and to wash your hands if you come into contact with a surface.

In short, it is best to assume that every surface is infected and all crowds pose an instant risk.

DIY cleaning

When you sit at a table in the airport or on a chair, you would be wise to wipe down the area yourself. It is a good idea to carry the wipes and spray, it is a better idea altogether to use them. You cannot assume that these surfaces have been cleaned and disinfected to your standards. 

While you should do this around the airport, you should certainly consider cleaning the table on the airplane and the seat in front of yours too. An airplane table has more germs than a toilet, so even in non-pandemic times it is a good idea to clean it yourself before eating from it. 

Taking the time to clean surfaces you touch might make you feel goofy and a little over paranoid, but in the time of a pandemic this is the best approach.

Don’t linger and keep your distance

If you have to travel, then you should keep the time at the airport terminal to a minimum. Sometimes we add on time to be sure of making our flight. However, the less time you spend in the terminal building the better. The time in the airport lounges is the most problematic part of the process, as you are confined in a space with a high number of other people. You cannot be sure of their behaviour either, and they might not show the same levels of responsibility.

When you are in the building, make every effort to keep away from other passengers. Even if the other passengers are as savvy as you at personal protection, you still want to keep that 2 metre distance, just as you would at the supermarket.

In short

Safety at the airport is similar to safety when at work or in the community. You should wear a mask, wash your hands and keep your distance. In addition, as an airport is such a unique environment, you should avoid lingering indoors with large crowds of people and you should clean surfaces yourself. 

The best advice of all is not to travel at the moment. There are few emergencies powerful enough to warrant the risk you are taking. It is not a risk you are taking for yourself either, you are sharing this risk with those closest to you. Consequently, we may all have to wait a while before travelling freely.