With COVID-19 surging and news of fast-fading antibodies, traveling by plane can be an anxious task. But if you do have to travel, there are plenty of things you can do and wear to keep yourself safe while in the skies.
Recently, I flew from LAX to Cancun to spend some time at the JW Marriott in Cancun to relax and see how they are handling COVID-19 there. Spoiler alert: They are killing it!
Cancun was awarded a Safe Travel stamp of approval from the World Trade and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the JW Marriott was the first property to receive the city’s safety and cleanliness certification (also from the WTTC). Being there was never going to be the problem; it felt so safe at the property with all the precautions. The scary part was getting there. Four flights, two to get there and two to get back, and changing planes in one of the most infected states in the US: Texas at DFW.
Travel, like anything that involves leaving your house right now, is a risk versus reward scenario. Having already had the virus in early March, I was ready to take the risk— but also wanted to maintain my health and give myself every opportunity to get to Mexico and back without contracting COVID again. So, I wore some pretty outrageous stuff (I looked like I had just joined Space Force and was ready for my mission to the moon) but I managed to get there and back safely and have an amazing trip and a much-needed break from reality.
Here’s what I wore and why, and how I’m confident it kept me safe:
If you are going to invest in one thing for traveling to keep you safe, an N95 or a K95 mask would be my first choice. They are a little difficult to find and can take some time to arrive— but they are well worth the search. While some cloth masks can look great, an N95 mask is designed for a closer fit, and they also filter out smaller particles (like COVID-19). Basically, we wear masks to protect others around us from our potential germs— it’s a courtesy to those around us. But, we wear an N95 mask to protect us from others. That’s the difference.
Tip: It’s important to not break the seal more than necessary. Additionally, when/if your flight serves food and drinks, that’s precisely the time to keep your mask on. Wait until everyone’s mask is back on before you go for a sip of water or a snack.
Editor’s Note: According to the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including coronavirus (COVID-19). They say, “those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.” For more information, see the FDA guidelines here.
RELATED: US Airlines’ Face Mask Policies
A face shield is a clear barrier that will protect your eyes, nose and mouth from contact with droplets. The amazing thing about using a face shield in addition to your face mask is that it reduces the likelihood that the virus comes into contact with your mask at all. Even if you wear an N95 mask, one of the challenges to all personal protective equipment (PPE) is taking it off properly— the shield reduces the ability for your mask to be infected and it’s like a double layer of protection, and even more importantly a face shield will keep you from touching your face. Additionally, they are easy to wash or spray and reuse. You may feel a little dorky, (actually I found a cool reflective one that made me look like Daft Punk) but it’s a lot better than getting sick with COVID-19. Take it from someone who’s had it.
Gloves are great if you treat them like your hands and sanitize after buckling into your seat, and if you change them out and wash your hands in-between. Because they are usually blue or purple, you’ll be very aware of your hands if you go to casually touch your face and it’s a helpful reminder to keep your dirty hands away from your face. I personally liked using them for TSA when I had to touch the bins (one of the dirtiest things you will encounter in an airport). Additionally, after having my bag checked a few times during my travels I now will carry an extra set in a zip-lock bag in case TSA or customs wants to go through my bag. At JFK, the TSA team was more than happy to change their gloves to go through my camera gear— however at customs in Mexico, it was a little more difficult to find clean gloves.
A hazmat suit may seem over the top but hear me out first. When numbers started to spike after booking my trip to Cancun, I realized I would be flying through not one, but two of the most infected areas of the country. I would be at LAX and DFW before arriving to my final destination, Cancun. My anxiety surged as the cases of COVID began to spike again across the nation. I decided that any additional barrier would be helpful. If a doctor wears it going in to see COVID patients, it was something I wanted to fly with because I assumed I would encounter several infected people while traveling through three airports. By the end of the day, I found that it was difficult and useless by the time you factor in the lavatory situation. Without going into detail, it may be easier for men than women to utilize this extra layer when it comes to using the restroom, so on my return, I skipped it and just wiped my seat extra well.
What I carried
I had a lot of hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes on hand for my trips. Lysol has been approved by the EPA to be effective at killing COVID-19 on surfaces. Additionally, hand sanitizer of 60% alcohol or more is effective when you can’t wash your hands with soap and water (think, after buckling into your airplane seat). Lysol brand can be difficult to find right now, but fortunately the Conrad Downtown NYC had partnered with Lysol as a part of the Hilton Clean Stay program, and they had a packet of 15 Lysol disinfectant wipes in my room, which lasted me two trips.
Bottom line, you can be a safe and responsible traveler, and you can be a huge part of the spread at home. Your behavior and regard (or disregard) for your safety and that of others will determine the outcome of a safe trip. Is it safe to travel? Nothing is guaranteed, but you can give yourself a great chance for a safe flight if you protect yourself as best you can.
Valerie Joy Wilson is a solo travel expert, travel host, and founder of the popular travel website, TrustedTravelGirl.com. As a full-time traveler, Valerie loves to venture off-the-beaten-path, discover hidden gems only locals know about, and help women travel better. A self-proclaimed experience junkie with no comfort zone, Valerie continues to scare her parents with her worldwide adventures. Valerie has been featured on CNN, BBC, Forbes, Fox News, and more. Follow Valerie on her global travels on her Instagram, YouTube, and TrustedTravelGirl.com.
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