Globe wearing a protective mask because of travel pandemic.

Pandemic Air Travel: How Safe Is It to Fly?

In one week, I will hear those magical words again, “Now Boarding.” I have missed that phrase, but I’m not overly enthused to travel by plane right now. A better description would be apprehensive. Will this five-hour flight show the current realities of travel and what one should expect, or will it be an introduction to the new or even the next normal? Let’s delve into whether pandemic air travel is safe or not right now.

Are The Airlines Trying To Kill You?

Long-time travel writer and craft beer aficionado Tim Leffel recently traveled on American Airlines during the pandemic and wrote about his experience. He does not recommend flying on American or United because of lax policies that promote company profit more so over passenger safety.

American and United were called out for not enforcing mask requirements (general safety) and not leaving the middle seat vacant (social distancing). Delta, Southwest, and others saw things differently and may have earned some customer loyalty. There have been some changes at the other airlines since.

Here is another recent account of pandemic air travel on American Airlines.

Are We in Jeopardy?

I will be flying on United. I wish it were Delta or Southwest. However, they don’t serve my destination well, and I still like to save vs. splurging money on airfare. Initially, my flight was in basic economy (aka deplorable class, I’m sure even Donald Trump would call it nasty), but then I saw that I could upgrade to “regular” economy for $2 more.

I’ll take the option to pick my seat, have a standard size carry-on (my trusty 40-liter Osprey backpack) with a personal item, and not have to board last for $500 (well uhh $2), please Alex.

I selected a seat next to the window for the first flight instead of my beloved aisle. There will be less foot traffic passing by me, and I can cocoon myself into the bulkhead in my imagined full-body condom. So far, the middle seat is vacant (Yes, I am checking daily). I also have a 40-minute connection to make in D.C. and can situate myself closer to the airplane’s exit doors. I will be bringing earplugs/earbuds, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes (if I can find any), some cloth masks, water, and snacks. Did I forget anything?

It Was All So Easy Then

My last foray from home was to Barcelona in early November. There I was hanging out at Cerveseria Catalana eating tapas and having a conversation with the couple seated next to me at the bar; it was a fun birthday. I won’t soon forget that bread pudding or the rest of the meal. Oh, how the world has changed since.

I flew one way to Spain via London after a change of plans. I stayed at a hostel in an 8-bed dorm room with like-minded travelers. We appreciated drink specials at the onsite bar, free breakfast, fast wifi, and camaraderie.

I walked down random streets with no set direction, exploring the different neighborhoods that make up the city without worry or care. I loved dining out, looking for new hidden gems, and revisiting favorite haunts for lunch and dinner. All those things simple things we took for granted.

Pandemic Air Travel in 2020: What Worries Me

There won’t be any food or drinks available on my flight. Well, at least not for those of us in coach. Masks are supposed to be worn throughout and even in the airport areas. I’m skeptical of what I will see. I won’t be visiting the lavatory, let alone leave my seat until it is time to deplane.

I’m not worried about the airlines themselves as much as I am about my fellow humans. People make up excuses not to wear masks. Here’s a thought, if you can’t breathe now, imagine what it would feel like trying to do so while on a ventilator? Many choose not to respect distancing. I’m sure that will make boarding and deplaning as much fun as it ever was. I have always been a big fan of personal space, and there is very little of it to be found when traveling, especially on a budget (I’m looking at you, my fellow coach passengers, bus riders, hostel dwellers, they know).

I miss being in the air on those long-haul flights for hours on end, but I don’t miss the seat pullers/yankers (when they are trying to get up) and aisle bumpers (it’s like a demolition derby in the sky). To those concerned about their “rights,” I can only hope that you can be a decent human for a few hours and put the health and safety of many over your own. On the other hand, a lot of the current issues stem from being selfish. The greater good and all that isn’t what it used to be, it is something that we need more of today. There needs to be compromise but, at the same time, sacrifice if we are to get anywhere with Covid-19.

Can Air Travel Keep Us Safe During the Pandemic?

This Bloomberg article shows us that the odds of catching the virus while flying are slim and that airplanes have NOT YET been the site of “superspreader events. I am thankful that I’m only flying one way. I get to take a road trip on my way back home and am looking forward to that adventure. More on that later.

Wish Me Luck

Here’s hoping that what little personal space I take up on the metal tube will be comfortable for the flight duration: no screaming babies, seat kickers, or full recliners. No flight or travel shaming, okay? It’s bad enough that I can’t enjoy a drink (red wine or vodka & cranberry) much less worry about traveling by air during a full-blown pandemic.

How would you deal with flying right now or prepare for one if you were? Do you feel that it is safe or just a means of getting from place to place? I’d love to hear about your experiences and observations.

Make Sure You Protect Yourself with Travel Insurance

While airlines are quite safe, I love the peace of mind travel insurance gives me in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, trip cancellation, or disruption. For a few dollars a day and with coverage for many types of adventure activities, I’m all in.

Get Ready to Book Your Trip: Helpful Links and Resources

Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find and research your airfare needs and to find the best flight deals. It searches worldwide on multiple airlines to help you find the best options.

Book Your Stay is my go-to for finding a place to stay anywhere globally. An outstanding company that I trust and have used for many years. Find accommodation from budget to luxury in cities and countries around the world. If you happen to be backpacking and staying in hostels, I recommend Hostelworld to help you find a place to stay.

Get Travel Insurance
Travel is unpredictable. Anything could happen. A trip interruption, flight delay, lost or stolen items, or personal injury, having comprehensive trip insurance will protect you if anything goes wrong. SafetyWing is a solid choice for most travelers.

Tours, Activities, and Things to Do
Viator (a TripAdvisor company) offers many excellent options to keep you busy wherever you may be, from walking and food tours to sunset cruises and more. Make sure to give them a look and add some fun-filled activities to your itinerary.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend companies and products that I use myself and believe in.