During COVID-19: Here Are 5 Air Travel Health Tips

Best practices and good advice for being safe while you're traveling by plane during the pandemic.

As we approach one full trip around the sun since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, nearly a year of proactive measure-taking and staying home combined with the prospect of warmer weather returning to the northern hemisphere can make even the most ardent social distancers dream of a spring trip somewhere — anywhere — outside their bubble.

As you contemplate potential plans, good habits old and new can help increase your chances of making it home without bringing back COVID-19 with your souvenirs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — which recently "ordered all travelers flying to the U.S. from abroad will have to show proof of negative COVID-19 tests before boarding their flight," according to The Wall Street Journal — offers these COVID-19 specific tips for travels which, when combined with just good sense, can help make the difference.

1. The Fundamentals of COVID-19 Still Apply
Being a global pandemic, COVID-19 is everywhere, including the new destination you're anxious to get to. Only the scenery changes, not the reality.

Before packing up, the CDC recommends:

  • Checking travel restrictions.
  • Get your flu shot.
  • Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer (more below).
  • Do not travel if you or your travel companions are sick.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart from anyone not in your group.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Consider testing. Even with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, testing will remain a vital tool in the fight against the reach of COVID-19. "Testing is a critical first-line of defense," said Andrea Wainer, Executive Vice President, Rapid and Molecular Diagnostics at Abbott, during an interview at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show. "It needs to be used in context with other hygiene practices of wearing your mask and washing your hands and by no means does this replace that. It comes together along with vaccinations. So, the more you can test, the more you can catch the virus. It's just simple math. Because at any one point in time, anyone can become infected." A supermajority of Americans agree with Wainer. A Harris Poll conducted at the end of 2020, showed "82% of Americans say the COVID-19 vaccine rollout will be more effective if it works in partnership with testing."

2. Be Prepared for Anything
One of the key health tips to keep in mind while traveling is to pack smart and be prepared. That's especially true during COVID-19. The American Academy of Family Physicians offers a valuable list of must-haves if you need some help with your packing list.

  • Hand sanitizer (the CDC recommends to "wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol") and antibacterial wipes. Between flights, it's not likely airline staff can disinfect every surface before it's time to take off again. If you're concerned about coming into contact with germs, use antibacterial wipes to wipe down the tray table, armrests, seat belt buckles — everything you'll touch during the flight.
  • High-protein snacks
  • Granola bars
  • Gum to chew for elevation changes
  • Cough drops
  • All your medications for the duration of your trip (luggage can get misdirected or lost, so you should keep these with you)
  • Diabetes testing supplies
  • Facial moisturizer
  • Eye mask, earplugs or headphones
  • An extra sweater (this can function as a blanket or neck pillow)

You're typically allowed to bring a small carry-on and a personal item onto the plane, so make sure that everything you need is accessible in those bags and that you know where to find these items without digging through your bags and disturbing your seatmate.

3. Wear Sunscreen (You've Been Couped Up)
If you are a frequent traveler, you may be surprised to learn that there is an increased risk of skin cancer for pilots, according to a study in Environmental Health, as well as heightened risks of skin and breast cancer for flight attendants, according to the International Journal of Cancer. There is still more study needed in this field but since planes fly closer to the sun, it makes sense for frequent flyers to wear sunscreen.

4. Avoid Alcoholic Beverages on the Plane
Even if you deal with anxiety and think a stiff drink will help calm your nerves, it's a better idea to skip the alcoholic beverages while flying. Reasons vary from the dehydration caused by alcohol in an already dry environment to the fact that alcohol affects a person more strongly because of the reduced oxygen in the air, as noted by aerospace medicine specialist Quay Snyder in an interview with the Washington Post. It could also make it more difficult to kick jet lag after you arrive at your destination. Stick to water and decaffeinated beverages until you touch down.

5. Flex Your Muscles
One of the most classic air travel health tips involves avoiding deep vein thrombosis (DVT). For people who are prone to these serious health concerns — including those with poor circulation and those who smoke, are pregnant, have recently had a surgery or have heart disease or certain cancers — it's a good idea to take some precautions for DVT while flying. Here's what Harvard Medical School suggests:

  • Get comfy, loose-fitting clothing and shoes.
  • Don't cross your legs during the flight.
  • Consider wearing compression socks while flying.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine.
  • Ask your doctor if an anticoagulant or small dose of aspirin would benefit you during the flight.

If you have any concerns about DVT, don't hesitate to discuss them with your personal physician. They can provide specific guidance for your situation.

So as you plan your trip, following these pieces of advice can help you from getting tripped up. Enjoy. Be safe. And keep COVID-19 out of your mementos.