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Saturday, November 28, 2020


How to stay safe while traveling for the holidays

Airline ticket prices have fallen due to the pandemic, but tentative travelers are wary of catching COVID-19 at a transportation hub this holiday season. | Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Airlines are one of the many industries affected by the pandemic. Surging cases and a lack of customers have led to price drops as air travel companies struggle to stay afloat. 

With prices on domestic flights averaging 41 percent lower than last year, many people are taking advantage of the discounted rate by purchasing tickets to join family and friends this holiday season.

The benefit of lower prices isn’t without risk. The coronavirus can be spread through airborne particles, especially in close quarters such as planes and buses. 

Potential passengers have concerns about ways to keep safe while traveling even before they venture to the airport.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes that traveling increases the chance of contracting and spreading the coronavirus. Risk can be minimized by exercising precaution, following rules and adapting to changes in plans, but can’t be completely eliminated. 

One precaution that passengers can follow to keep safe is maintaining a six feet distance when around others. The distance can help in avoiding contact with anyone who is potentially sick. Passengers can also limit contact with frequently touched surfaces such as kiosks, handrails and any buttons. 

If touched, it is recommended to practice good hand hygiene afterward by either using hand sanitizer or washing your hands for 20 seconds.

These surfaces can potentially carry the virus, making it easy to spread to the eyes, nose and mouth without washing hands. Although soap and water are preferable, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol works as well. 

It is also recommended to clean your hands often. Especially after going to the bathroom, before eating or after sneezing or coughing. Practicing good hand hygiene is crucial in stopping the spread of germs that are easily found in the airport.

Furthermore, passengers can also pack safe. Some essential items to pack are face masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and a thermometer. 

Testing is recommended before and after travel to see if the virus was contracted. If contracted, quarantine protocols should be followed through to keep others safe.

To address customer health and safety concerns, airlines have implemented virus-mitigating social distancing and sanitation measures to prevent airborne spread. 

Some, like Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines, have cut customer volume by blocking out middle seats, thus establishing a distance of six feet between customers. Although temporary, the absence of middle seat passengers allows for social distancing.

While not all airline carriers are participating in seat restrictions, the majority are committing to enhanced cleaning on their planes.

Some, like American Airlines and United Airlines, are also using HEPA filters to purify the cabin air every two to three minutes and providing hand sanitizer for passengers to use. Other airlines, like Hawaiian Airlines, are offering COVID-19 testing for any of their travelers. 

Despite health and safety precautions implemented on airlines, some people are still skeptical. Ken Ripperger-Schuler, a UH health sciences professor, is one such skeptic. 

“I think the air filtration is a great idea for an enclosed space,” Ripperger-Suhler said. “However, I think people sitting next to each other without air intake to take their breath and purify it is a very poor idea.”

Ripperger-Suhler explains that if someone who is sick breathes out the virus, those close to them may breathe it in if their mask does not filter out the virus or they incorrectly wear their mask during a long flight.

“The filtration system will not clean the air before it goes to a person sitting next to an infected person,” Ripperger-Suhler said. “The air in the plane may be generally clean, but one sick person could share the virus with those sitting closer than the intake to the filtration system.”

Ripperger-Suhler underscores the importance of wearing a mask. The sentiment reflects those released by the CDC, deeply stressing the necessity of wearing a protective, cloth face covering to lower the risk of transmission, especially for those traveling in massive transportation hubs like airports. 

Influenced by the CDC, many airlines have implemented a mask mandate for any passenger trying to board their plane.

Even with the mask mandates, Ripperger-Suhler also expresses the need for people to stay home despite the urge to travel.

“Airlines, like many businesses, are getting desperate. I wouldn’t travel by air. I would either drive to get there or not go,” Ripperger-Suhler says.

“People are suffering from pandemic fatigue. It affects their judgment. This is a time to be careful. Discipline is a great attribute to have at this time.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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