Flying during COVID: Tips from a quasi-germaphobe

I love to travel and decided I wasn’t going to let 2020 become a wasted year of cant’s. Now most folks would say it is crazy to get on a plane at this time and that it’s a germ incubator. While they’re right, we can’t let this uncertainty define us and confine us. We’ve all put our goals, plans and dreams on pause – it’s time to move forward, cautiously but forward.

Before I get to my recent experience flying and tips, I want to share the list of things I’m glad I brought to stay safe at the airport and on the flight.

The New Travel Protection Must-Have List

1. Clear plastic gloves (at least three pairs)

2. Face masks (without valves)

3. Sanitizing wipes

4. Lysol/>70% Alcohol-based disinfectant spray (I make my own with 80% alcohol and lavender oil and carry it in a TSA approved size spray bottle everywhere)

5. Hand sanitizer (you can also make this yourself with >80% Alcohol and aloe vera)

6. Clear face shield

7. Empty Garbage bag

8. Glasses/Sunglasses

9. Headband neck gaiter

10. Shoe covers

TSA precheck has never been more important. I was next up on line – there was no one else on the line and it seemed like folks on the regular line we’re not observing six-feet distancing nor knew how to wear a mask. Masks must create a seal on your face covering your nose, mouth and chin fully. The TSA security agent asked me to take off both my sunglasses and mask. I wasn’t prepared as I had my face shield in my bag.

Tip 1: Be better than me, once you get you get to the airport put on your clear face shield and mask. Then once you hand the TSA security agent your ticket and take a step back to take off your mask and show them your face while keeping your clear face shield on. Then put your mask back on.

Going through the scanners you can keep only clear face shields, clear glasses, masks and clear plastic gloves – all other rules still apply.

Tip 2: Metal sensors appear to have heightened sensitivity so do not wear jeans!

Tip 3: Given the LGA construction it will take you a longer time to get to your gate so get there at least an hour and a half early if you’re flying from LGA.

Getting onto the flight is still a mad dash and folks are again not following the six-feet distancing decals during boarding. People still rush to the line like a mob and are at your heels on the boarding bridge.

Tip 4: Once at your seat I highly recommend spraying your chair and area, using Clorox wipes or both – especially the seatbelt! If you have a bag or backpack to Stowe underneath the chair in front of you place it in a plastic bag before stowing it. Point the air valves away from you.

I personally love the enhanced protection of Respro masks but they have valves (granted they’re better valves and they were the lead mask makers for sports and pollution before Covid) and valves aren’t accepted everywhere. So, I always carry with me an American flag gaiter either as a headband, wristband or scrunchie to place it over my mask when needed. During this flight it served a different purpose – headcover. I’m not religious (besides countless years in catholic school) – I respect all religions and have many friends from all practices. But we live in a highly polarized world and unfortunately prejudice, unconscious biases’ and discrimination are still widespread. That is why I only use American Flag gaiters. In this case, the gaiter gave me the comfort to be able to sit back properly and have my head against the seat without my hair/head touching the seat.

Tip 5: Keep you clear plastic gloves on and hand sanitize them frequently. If you have a weak bladder bring tissue paper for bathroom handles, buttons and hand pumps.

While flights aren’t fully booked, you’ll still have folks in front of you, behind you and to your side. Flight attendants will check for masks. Face shields and coverings do not count. If you’re flying Delta, your mask can’t have valves. However, attendants don’t quality assess if folks are wearing their masks properly. It was a pleasant surprise to receive a white paper tote bag with a mini water bottle, pretzels and sanitizing wipe from American Airlines. And most importantly, seeing all flight attendants properly wearing masks and gloves as well as passing around more frequently for garbage checks throughout the flight. I usually suffer from the ascent’s air pressure and carry gum or gummy bears. Given the tight proximity of others taking off my mask was not on the table – not this time. Surprisingly, pretending to chew and having wireless sport noise-cancelling Bose headphones helped more than I expected. In terms of off-boarding, folks are more anxious than ever to get off a plane. Some folks will be civil and wait/give you space but most are self-interested and rude.

Tip 6: If you’ve got a carry-on and typically need help placing and retrieving it from the overhead compartment – do not stuff it as you are most likely to be on your own to get it up/down. If you’re vertically challenged like me, just avoid it and use a tote or a backpack.

Some restaurants at the airport are still open as are the duty-free shops but most convenience/newsstand stores like Hudson News remain closed. There are spots to sit that are socially distanced but you’re still at an airport where anyone can walk past you at any moment. One thing I wish I had was shoe covers. Alas I wore my hiking shoes that already get sprayed frequently. All in all, my flight was pretty good and I felt safe – but I definitely placed the order for those shoe covers. Hope you find this helpful and it gives you the confidence to pursue a real change of scenery so you can fully unplug and explore.

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