Staying Safe on Aeroplanes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Recently I’ve been receiving more questions from people on social media who are about to go on holiday. If you’re one of them, I hope you have an amazing time and that you stay safe.

A good number of these questions have involved COVID-19, aeroplanes and staying safe. It’s completely understandable that those topics are common too. We’re dealing with a global pandemic and some of us will be worried about a prolonged encounter with lots of new people.

Today, I’m going to be sharing just a little bit of information about staying safe on aeroplanes during COVID-19.

Staying Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

It’s amazing to see how current vaccination progress is helping to reduce the number of symptomatic cases, hospital admissions and deaths, but we still have to do what we can to keep ourselves and those around us safe. A lot of airlines have taken this into account, leading to our first tip:

1. Make sure you’re aware of the rules the airline you’re flying with has laid out.

Many airlines have their own rules when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19. For example, KLM currently states, “Onboard you are required to wear a face mask. Even if you have been vaccinated against or have recently tested negative for COVID-19. Without one, we cannot allow you to board.”

It’s important to make sure that you know the rules of the airline you’re flying with and what exemptions are present if you need them. For example, some airlines will need you to have a signed and stamped certificate from your doctor.

Naturally, there will be parts of your journey where you will be removing your mask to eat or drink. Most airlines completely accept the temporary removal of masks, as long as you have them on at all other times and don’t try to traverse the cabin without them.

2. Check what type of masks your airline accepts.

Different airlines have different requirements when it comes to the type of mask that you wear while you’re in the air. Some just request a face covering, whereas others are very specific about the type of masks that they allow on board.

For example, Finnair does not allow fabric face masks on their flights. They require surgical masks, valveless FFP2 or FFP3 masks or other valveless masks that meet N95 standards. This is because fabric masks don’t offer comparable levels of protection.

Lufthansa has similar requirements, accepting only surgical masks, FFP2, FFP3, KN05 and N95-standard masks. Cloth face masks are not currently permitted on board.

Before travelling, it’s worth making sure that you have a face mask accepted by the airline you’re travelling with or a valid exemption certificate. Some airlines require a medical certificate, whereas others require you to have a very specific form filled by your doctor.

3. Try to limit the amount of time you spend walking around the cabin.

One issue with COVID-19 and aeroplanes is that they place us in an environment where we’re surrounded by lots of new people. Trying to limit contact with those people can help to reduce the risk of transmission. 

You’re probably going to have to move around from time to time, especially if you’re on a long-haul flight and need to use the bathroom. But, trying to reduce movement around the cabin when it isn’t as necessary can help you to stay safe.

4. Try to ignore false information about the same air”.

There are far too many pieces of false information online claiming that the use of the “same air” circulating on aeroplanes leads to higher risk. It’s easy to see how things like this could cause people to worry too, it’s only natural. 

Luckily, that isn’t reality. Modern aeroplanes have incredibly advanced air filtration systems. We’ve previously seen David Nabarro of WHO confirm that air travel is relatively safe and he confirmed that air filtration systems were one of the reasons for this.

Transmission occurring because of the air that you breathe in on board alone would be highly unlikely. You’re much more likely to be at risk when you’re seated next to a passenger or near a passenger with COVID-19 because of the airborne droplets.

Inside most aeroplanes, the air we breathe is equal parts filtered air and fresh air.

5. Prepare for reduced food and drink offerings.

Many airlines have responded to the risk of transmission by reducing the food and drink offerings that they previously had. The aim of this is to reduce physical contact.

One way we can immediately see this on board is in the lack of menus, as the cabin crew on flights now are happy to explain options and allergen information. Only some airlines are still offering menus.

I’ve flown long-haul with KLM and BA during the pandemic and found that both were offering pre-prepared meals and snacks. There were definitely less options than previously would have been present with both airlines. Some airlines have also suspended alcohol sales.

It’s worth checking beforehand what your airline will offer, especially if you’re on a long-haul flight. Some airlines are catering for people with special dietary needs, while others are not. If your airline can’t offer what you need, please check what you can bring on board with you in terms of food and snacks.

Staying Safe On Board During the COVID-19 Pandemic

While all of these tips are relatively practical, the most important tip I can offer would be to try to stay calm and relax. Distract yourself, watch something…do whatever helps you to unwind while you’re on board.

Studies currently show that your risk of catching COVID-19 on an aeroplane is relatively low. The presence of the air filtration system and safety protocols help with that.

Do you have any tips for anyone worried about flying during the COVID-19 pandemic? I would love to hear them in the comments below.