As we started to taxi it became clear that the fella in the middle seat next to me was visibly ill. As he hacked and coughed and sneezed into his face mask, I adjusted my own mask and had a brief moment of panic. Does he have COVID? Will I get sick? Four hours later we exited the plane and 6 days later, no sickness for me and no COVID either. Are masks that good?
Traveling has been reported to be remarkably safe – especially on airplanes. In fact, recently the Department of Defense published a report stating that air travelers have a very low probability of contracting COVID on a plane. Indeed, many of the airlines have also been saying the same thing. I put the theory to test on a recent trip to New England.
On my ~four hour trip from Denver to Boston’s Logan Airport I had the misfortune of sitting next to a young man (probably in his 20’s) who was visibly ill. The flight was full so relocating wasn’t an option, and I wasn’t about to “Karen” this fella with the flight attendants. I also didn’t realize it until we were taxiing down the runway. He was seated directly next to me in the middle seat and I had an aisle. We were crammed in pretty tight.
After he stifled what was clearly a very needed sneeze for about 10 minutes I finally leaned over to him and said, “Bro, just sneeze already.” He laughed and said, “Don’t worry man, I don’t have COVID. It’s just a cold.” I weakly chuckled back. Over the course of the next four hours he sneezed several times, hacked and coughed a bunch more times, and used his mask to deal with his dripping nose.
We were both wearing masks and the air on planes is cleaned and recycled every 3 minutes or so. However, I was inwardly panicking a little bit. Yeah, sure it’s recycled every 3 minutes but my face is less than 3 minutes away from his face…would it be recycled in time? Was I going to die? Yeah, that was a stupid thought. Even if I did get COVID the chances of me dying were extremely slim. Extremely slim. Besides, he had a mask. I had a mask. We were not holding hands. LOL.
After we arrived, I kept tab on things for the next few days. Checking my temperature, worrying a little bit, of course. Same thing when I returned home. Ultimately, though, not only did I not get COVID (2 negative COVID tests proved it), I didn’t even catch the guy’s cold. Those damn masks seem to work pretty well, never mind the precautions airlines are taking.
That’s pretty amazing, really. And, in my mind, speaks to the effectiveness of wearing face masks. And the measures travel providers are taking to keep passengers safe. It also highlights, again, in my opinion, why folks really ought to consider getting out a bit more (safely, of course). I am certainly not a medical expert, but I’ve now flown three times in the COVID era for work, plus taken a few road trips. All have involved rental cars, airports, hotels, gas stations, stores, customers, and more. Not once did I get ill.
This is likely because of the measures I have taken when traveling. Things like:
- Wearing a face mask when advised
- Wiping down surfaces in hotels, rental cars, and the airplane seat area itself
- Minimizing my use of airplane lavatories
- Minimizing the drinking and eating of food on planes
- Socially distancing whenever possible (socially distancing on an airplane is literally not possible, mind you)
- Using copious amounts of hand sanitizer
- Avoiding touching my face & eyes
- Washing my hands frequently (and correctly)
Additionally, the measures that travel providers are taking to improve the safety of their customers is helping too. From enhanced cleaning measures that every single airline is taking, to enhanced hotel room cleaning, to less indoor eating, and electrostatic cleaning of rentals cars, etc, etc, etc.
My experience, thus far, is that travel is safer than expected. If you are willing to play along.
If you insist on being a douchebag and not wearing your mask on the plane (or wherever else you are supposed to), then yeah, you might get sick. But, if you follow the rules, and, of course, are not in a high-risk status (see CDC’s guidance here), travel can be safer than you might think. At least that’s been my experience.
Note: to be clear, the CDC’s guidance on travel still suggests people should avoid traveling: “Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.” I am not suggesting you should throw caution to the wind and start booking trips willy nilly, I am suggesting that travel seems to be safer than you might think and that the CDC should consider altering it’s travel policies given the relative safety travel can now be completed in.
It’s also worth noting that while this gentleman had a cold (so he claimed), had he had COVID I may have a different result. A recent study concluded, “The most likely route of transmission during the flight is aerosol or droplet transmission from case 1, particularly for persons seated in business class.” They added, “We found no strong evidence supporting alternative transmission scenarios.” Granted, this study was related to international flights, but it did have a striking observation: “Sitting near the ill passenger was strongly tied to increased infection risk.“
How about you? What’s been your travel experience been during the COVID era? Did you get ill while traveling? Did you feel safe? Drop us a comment below or tweet your experience!
- US DOT giving out free masks to travelers
- Delta Face Mask Policy
- Southwest Face Mask Policy
- United Airlines Face Mask Policy
- Spirit Face Mask Policy
- British Airways Face Mask Policy
- Where to buy a Face Mask for Travel
- See all Face Mask Policies here
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