Early on, we give kids informal science lessons about germs; where they live (everywhere!), what they do (make us sick!), and how to get them off our exposed skin (wash our hands!). Following the COVID-19 global pandemic, our entire civilization is revisiting these previous teachings and reminding ourselves to look out for vulnerabilities in our ongoing battle against microscopic pathogens.
International travel has catered for a number of reasons. Many believe that airplanes are flying petri dishes and some have anecdotal stories about getting on a plane healthy and getting sick a day later. While this can happen, airlines are going above and beyond to ensure a cleaner service, such as maintaining HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters that are continuously cleaning the air1, all service staff wearing masks and gloves, and using EPA-approved disinfectant to clean all customer areas such as tray tables, seatbelt buckles, armrests, window shades, and overhead bin handles.
Now that the airlines are doing their part, below are more tips and considerations on what you can do to make sure you are healthy and have peace of mind before, during, and after your trip. Please keep in mind that we are not scientists or doctors and you should always seek professional consultation before making any decision as it relates to your personal health.
Wash Your Hands After You Get To Your Gate
Does this sound familiar? It’s obvious for us to be cautious about the actual airplane but think about how you got there. Places with a high level of human traffic include the check-in counter, security, duty-free, dining locations, lounges, device charging areas, terminal seating areas, and of course, the bathroom. The airline is doing their job to clean customer areas and we can do our part by cleaning off nasty microbes that can cause illness2
Consider Wearing A Mask
There is not a scientific consensus regarding the effectiveness of wearing a mask and preventing any form of viral respiratory infection; there’s even disagreement between the WHO and the CDC, two of the highest authorities regarding global healthy3. What is not under scrutiny is the prevention of spreading any bacteria to others. Coughs, sneezes, and face/mouth touching is a quick way to get germs from one place to another. Just because the germs you have don’t inflict harm doesn’t mean that the person sitting across the aisle on an airplane will have the same reaction if they float in their direction.
Wipe Down Your Airplane Seating Area
Airlines are telling us that they have never cleaned airplanes like they are cleaning them today4 – this is great news! Just in case, it may be wise to carry a travel-sized pouch of disinfectant wipes. It’s a cheap investment that will buy you peace of mind for any length journey aboard a commercial flight. Think about the obvious places your fellow passenger’s touch: tray tables, seatbelts, armrests, window shades, in-flight magazines, etc. Also, don’t forget about the bathroom door, toilet seat/lid, and faucet handle(s).
Know Germ Hotspots in Hotels
Generally speaking, most understand the toilet and immediate surrounding areas can have contaminants present – it is a bacteria hot spot. But the next most contaminated areas? TV remote controls and light switches! It could be obvious to us and to cleaning staff to pay more attention to a place like a bathroom but less obvious to give attention to places that are constantly being touched and not being disinfected. Other hotspots include the telephone, ice buckets, door keycards, in-room coffee pots, and drinking glasses5. Use some more of those disinfecting wipes and as usual, wash your hands.
Travel in Small Groups with Expert Guides
With the inclusion of ‘social distancing’ into our everyday lexicon, citizens of impacted countries have quickly been trained to be aware of our distances to others. Even retail locations are metering the number of people who are allowed in or out of their buildings to avoid crowding. The days of loading up large coach buses on an international tour with every seat filled may be a thing of the past; the idea of sitting side by side with dozens of strangers in a confined space for a few hours might be too much to handle for some. One of the main benefits of traveling in small groups now becomes obvious: more space for one group to spread out. Instead of bunching around in tight semi-circles to hear a tour guide explain a site, small groups give you more flexibility to properly and comfortably have your own personal space. During transit, meals, and touring, it is definitely easier for a small group to move about freely and comfortably without the fear of lingering too close for comfort.
“The reality of the pandemic is that it has shown how important it is to travel with experts who understand safety and security – to do research in advance. And the “little” things like washing hands are suddenly important to people who maybe were lax. All travelers will need to be smarter about how they travel. I think smaller groups will be in demand and possibly groups who all know each other versus strangers. Seating arrangements for distance, assurance of medical facilities near the trip, clarity around hygiene, and possibly confirming that people aren’t sick when they show up.” Shannon Stowell – Adventure Travel Trade Association
Be Prepared for Longer Lines at the Airport
Show up 2.5 hours in advance of your international flight to be sure you have enough time to pass through the ever-changing security measures in place.
Packing New Travel Items
We all have various checklists of things we need to bring on a trip: choices of clothing, electronics and chargers, toiletries, important documents, etc. It may be wise to make a new list of travel must-haves – products to keep you germ-free! As mentioned above, a pouch of travel disinfectant wipes is a great idea; they are easy to pack, cost less than $5, and can be used in a multitude of ways. Make sure to read the label for the specific use type (skin or surfaces). Another must-have is a small bottle of travel hand sanitizer; these are usually less than $1 and are ideal if you find yourself in a place without a hand washing station. Lastly, a bottle of antibacterial soap. Most hotels and restaurants have bar soap or a gel that comes out of a dispenser and that’s a good start. Are these antibacterial? Hard to know unless the label or packaging is nearby! Do yourself a favor and pack a small $3 bottle. Don’t overuse this, however, because too much can actually eliminate healthy bacteria on the skin6.