Safe Travel Tips for the 2020 Holiday Season
What are you to do if you find yourself having to travel by plane for the holidays during a pandemic? Are there safe travel tips for the 2020 holiday season for travelers to follow?
If you’re considering flying for the holidays, the CDC has recommended against it, and in NY State, Governor Cuomo has prohibited gatherings larger than 10 people. You might want to think twice about traveling by plane or inviting any distant relatives to visit you if you live in New York State.
The world isn’t ready for us to start traveling, but some of us are required to travel by plane for work or a family emergency may require a sudden trip. These safe travel tips for the 2020 holiday season will give you some insight into what to expect and how to prepare should you have to fly.
Before you make travel plans consider these questions
Is COVID-19 spreading at your arrival destination?
The more cases at your destination, the more likely you may get infected during travel.
Are you at increased risk for severe illness?
Anyone can get COVID-19, but older adults and people with certain medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Do you live with someone who’s at increased risk for severe illness?
If you get infected while traveling, you can spread the virus to the people you live with when you return, even if you don’t have symptoms.
You must give these questions serious consideration before you decide to travel. If, however, you do find a need to travel, be smart about it, and travel safely.
Check travel restrictions
For up-to-date information and travel guidance, check state and local health department guidelines for both your departure and arrival destinations. Follow the guidelines, check back for updates as your trip gets closer, and prepare to be flexible during your trip as restrictions and policies change frequently.
Travel restrictions can include COVID-19 testing before arriving at your destination as well as mandatory quarantine requirements upon your return. Be sure you fully understand what is expected of you before and after your trip.
Travel restrictions in New York State
For any traveler returning to New York State from a noncontiguous state, US territory, or CDC level 2 or level 3 country, a mandatory 14-day quarantine is required. However, new guidelines allow travelers to test-out of the quarantine as follows:
For travelers who were out-of-state for more than 24 hours:
- Travelers must obtain a test within three days of departure, before arrival in New York.
- The traveler must, upon arrival in New York, quarantine for three days.
- On day 4 of their quarantine, the traveler must obtain another COVID test. If both tests come back negative, the traveler may exit quarantine early upon receipt of the second negative diagnostic test.
- For travelers who were out-of-state for less than 24 hours:
- The traveler does not need a test before they depart from the other state and does not need to quarantine upon arrival in New York State.
- However, the traveler must fill out our traveler form upon entry into New York State, and take a COVID diagnostic test 4 days after they arrive in New York.
At NY airports the national guard meets visitors as they disembark their planes to obtain the traveler form. Local health departments will validate tests, if necessary, and if a test comes back positive, will issue isolation orders and initiate contact tracing. The local health department must make contact with the state the traveler came from, to ensure contact tracing proceeds there as well.
Booking your flight
To see what airlines are doing to protect passengers and their specific travel requirements, check their websites. Find out which airlines are not fully booking flights. Some airlines are keeping the middle seats empty, others are selling less than 70% of the seats on any flight, while others are allowing passengers to book a different flight if they’re not comfortable with where they are sitting. I personally feel that some distance is safer than none and the further away you can be from another passenger on a plane, the better.
What to pack
When it’s time to pack for your trip, be sure to take these safety travel essentials: Face masks, disinfectant wipes with at least 70% alcohol, and 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Travelers can pack one 12-ounce container of hand sanitizer in a carry-on bag.
All U.S. airlines have compulsory mask requirements when flying, for both crew and passengers. Masks must cover the nose and mouth and be made of at least two layers of tightly-woven fabric. Those with an exhalation valve or vent, as well as neck gaiters and bandanas, are banned. The airline will not let you board without the appropriate mask.
What to expect at the airport
Air travel involves spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people. Be sure to maintain a distance of 6 feet between you and others and always keep your mask on. DO NOT enter the airport if you are sick. Limit contact with frequently touched surfaces, such as handrails, elevator buttons, and kiosks. Consider purchasing a no-touch door opener which is particularly useful in restrooms.
Checking in for a flight
Instead of handing boarding passes to TSA officers, travelers should place passes (paper or electronic) directly on the scanner and then hold them up for inspection. This includes your ticket as well as your license or passport. The TSA officer will ask you to pull your mask to the side for identification purposes. If you exhibit symptoms of illness such as a cough or difficulty breathing, you will be required to leave the checkpoint immediately.
The screening process
During the screening process, it’s in your best interest to place food items in a separate clear plastic bag and place the bag in its own bin for screening. Separating food from carry-on bags lessens the likelihood that screeners will need to open bags and touch your food items for inspection.
Personal items such as keys, wallets, and phones should be placed in carry-on bags instead of directly in the bins. This reduces the handling of these items during screening.
Be mindful that everything you touch during the screening process puts you at risk. I recommend bringing your own disinfectant wipes and sanitizing your bin before going through security.
Food kiosks and restaurants
The majority of food kiosks and restaurants at airports are closed. The safest option is to eat at home. You don’t want to be taking your mask off in a busy airport or on the airplane anyway.
At the gate
When you arrive at your gate, ask if your flight is full. You may want to switch to another flight with fewer people. Ask if you’re sitting next to another passenger and if you are, ask if they can move you to an empty row or a row where the middle seat is free.
You may have to pay more if the only available seats are in the premium section and that is a decision you will have to make based on your comfort level and budget.
What you can do on the plane to stay safe
Deep cleaning and aircraft fogging seem to be the norm these days. I recommend utilizing a sanitizing wipe before you sit down. Wipe the seat belt, armrests, media screen, drop-down tray, window shade, and the airflow regulator that’s over-head.
If there is an overhead air nozzle, adjust it to point straight at your head and keep it on full. You can create an air barrier around you that creates turbulence, blocking potentially harmful particles and forcing them to the ground faster.
What to expect on the plane
Even though there’s a mask mandate on the plane, it doesn’t always mean people comply. If someone is not wearing a mask do not hesitate to discreetly inform a flight attendant. Do not take matters into your own hands as a person may become combative.
Food and beverage service
Airlines are limiting food service to eliminate contact between the flight attendants and passengers. They allow you to briefly remove your mask while actively eating, but save your snack for when you’re out of the airport. It’s just safer that way.
The flights have generally had decent boarding procedures, requiring passengers to board from back to front.
Disembarkation has been inconsistent. Some airlines ensure social distancing by requiring passengers to disembark in an orderly manner, by row, from front to back. On other airlines, it’s a free-for-all. Passengers rush to grab their luggage out of the overhead bins and crowd the aisles. Airlines who allow this should be fined.
When you do start traveling again, can you be confident that every measure is taken to help you have a safe and COVID-free flight?
My answer is no.
Each airline has different protocols. Within each airline variables such as rule enforcement and flight attendant training determine whether the protocols are followed.
The world understands that there are essential reasons to travel and people may need to get on a plane. Because air travel hasn’t been consistent, safe travel tips for the 2020 holiday season will hopefully help you travel smarter and safer.
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