After almost two years of restrictions and what seems like a never-ending lockdown, things are finally starting to look up.
The thought of packing a suitcase and travelling to the airport to catch some sun is one which I’m sure we all crave. However if you’re jetting off this year, being surrounded by strangers in a confined space for hours might seem like a scary idea.
Coming into contact with shared facilities, such as the toilets, could mean you risk catching and spreading the virus through touching a contaminated surface, but in a bid to reassure worried passengers, airlines have introduced safety protocols to ensure the risk of contracting covid remains a low risk.
Some of these protocols include social distancing, reducing food and drink services and ensuring face coverings are worn on board. In addition to these, some airports have also implemented touch-free check in and body temperature cameras.
To help, we’ve gathered the best tips from ‘Which?’ to ensure you can relax whilst going on holiday.
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Choose an airline whose coronavirus protocols you trust
Health and safety protocols will vary depending on which airline you fly with.
‘Which?’ reports that Ryanair won’t automatically seat you with your household, unless you pay for pre-selected seats. This is despite EU Covid-19 guidance calling on airlines to limit passengers’ contact with strangers and modify the seat allocation process accordingly.
Ryanair denied any suggestion that it has intentionally split up groups travelling together, stating that its seating policy ‘remains unchanged’ during the pandemic.
So if you are able to select a seat, it’s said that you should choose one by the window as it attracts less germs than the aisle seat, which people touch as they walk past or when getting in and out of their seat row.
The government is advising passengers to check as much luggage into the hold as possible in order to limit movement within the cabin. Ryanair, however, is encouraging customers to bring carry-on bags.
A spokesperson for Ryanair said hold luggage would ‘significantly increase the risk of COVID-19 ’ as it has to pass through eight different sets of hands, from check-in to the boarding gate.
Before booking, please check your airlines rules before you book.
Take your own cleaning products
It’s been reported that Ryanair are relying on just one clean per day as the chemicals they use are said to provide 24 hours of protection.
However virologist at University College London, Greg Towers, says: “More cleaning equals less risk. I don’t know what cleaning Ryanair is doing, but I doubt there’s a way of preventing the virus getting on door handles or killing it with some previous cleaning protocol”.
Due to situations such as this, Dr Wilson-Howarth advises carrying alcohol wipes to clean the tray table and high-risk areas including the toilet door handle.
And just in case the hand sanitiser dispensers aren’t contactless, it’s also best to bring your own.
While some airports are trialling body temperature cameras to screen people as they move through the airport, the EASA has warned there’s little evidence of their effectiveness.
According to the Office for National Statistics, up to 80% of people who test positive for coronavirus don’t display symptoms meaning their temperature may read as normal despite having the virus.
For the 20% that aren’t asymptomatic, it can take between four and seven days to develop a fever after exposure. Therefore, these trials are reportedly no longer continuing.
Still, there’s no harm in checking your own temperature just in case you do have a fever as if you do, you may be denied boarding. ‘Which?’ recommend taking out comprehensive travel insurance to protect against this scenario.
Switch on the overhead fan
Airlines’ hospital-grade high-efficiency particulate air filtration systems (HEPA) on planes is said to remove 99.9% of impurities, including bacteria and viruses, renewing cabin air every two to three minutes.
Professor Sally Bloomfield, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, suggests switching on the overhead fan as it can enables you to breathe air directly from above rather than that of the people seated around you, thus reducing the risk of catching the airborne virus.
Travel at quieter times – if possible
If you’re flexible, it’s best to fly at the quieter times as there will obviously be less people and therefore a lower risk.
Flights are normally at their quietest on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Other options are to travel very early in the morning or late at night when flights are often not so full.
Wear a mask over your nose and mouth – and bring spares
Those with certain medical conditions are exempt as well as children though the cut-off age varies by airline.
When you bring your own covering, bear in mind that European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control advises that medical masks should be worn when a minimum distance of 1.5 metres from others can’t be guaranteed.
According to WHO, you should not use the mask when it becomes damp, nor should you reuse it.
Throw it away immediately when you remove it to eat or drink and replace with a fresh one afterwards. Additionally, make sure they cover the face from the bridge of the nose to the chin.
A mask which does not fit correctly can result in the person constantly touching their mask and face to fix it – potentially leading to an increase in transmission.
Please check whether the country you’re flying to requires a certain type of mask for entry as its being reported that passengers are being denied boarding for not having the correct face mask.
Travelers entering Italy, for example, are required to wear a surgical or FFP2 mask. This information can be hard to find online so before flying, check with your airline or pack several different types of mask, including a surgical or FFP2 mask, so that you’re covered.
Avoid touching everything
According to The New England Journal of Medicine, coronavirus can live on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for up to 72 hours.
Measures are already in place to make airports as touch-free as possible with passengers being asked to self-scan passports and use ‘bag drop’ and eGate facilities to keep contact to a minimum.
To keep the new system as stress-free as possible, it may be worth downloading the airline app before you travel as it means you can check in online and download your boarding pass to your phone.
A great tip is also to download newspapers, books and magazines to read rather than buying them in airport shops and bring your own empty refillable water bottle which you can fill it up once you’ve past security.
GP and travel health writer, Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth, warns that airport ATMs are likely to be a ‘highly contaminated’ surface and recommends that you bring enough cash for your journey and use contactless payment where possible.
What are the high-risk contamination zones at the airport?
- ATM Machine
- Passport check-in desk
- Shop payment terminal
- Children’s play area
- Staircase rails
- Security check tray area