Earlier in the pandemic, when my partner and I decided to spend six weeks in his hometown of Copenhagen, we knew the flight would be the most stressful part of the experience. Because Denmark was allowing citizens (like my partner) and their domestic partners (like me), we were lucky enough to be given a pass into Europe. That being said, hopping on an airplane was far more complicated and different than ever before.
Not only did we need to leave much earlier than we usually would, but many of the amenities travelers have grown used to — lounges, restaurants, bars — were closed. On the plane, there were no choices for meals; you were simply served what they offered you. (And you guessed it: No booze either for our six-hour red eye.)
Generally speaking, the overall energy for flying right now is stressful: People are worried about maintaining a proper distance; anytime someone coughs, everyone goes on high alert; and using the restroom was scary to say the least, with many high-touch areas to navigate. It makes the pleasure of air travel a little less exciting and a little more anxiety-driving.
Recently, there have been a few studies suggesting airplanes aren’t the coronavirus hotbeds you might expect. One from the US Department of Defense supports earlier research showing the ventilation systems on planes filter air efficiently and take out particles that could transmit viruses. However, this study hasn’t been peer reviewed and didn’t take into account other possible ways of transmission such as other passengers coughing and breathing in close proximity to you.
Although there’s some science that suggests taking a commercial flight shouldn’t be a problem with the proper precautions, we still think it’s a good idea to take some extra steps to lower the risk even further. Especially since cases in the US just surpassed 10 million and hospitalizations are at an all-time high.
If you’re planning to travel for the holidays, it’s important to think carefully and critically about what you put in your carry-on. Not only do you want to keep yourself safe and comfortable, but you also want to prepare to not have as many goods at your fingertips at the airport. Below, we spoke with doctors about how to pack and prepare in the age of Covid-19:
Coronavirus travel safety tips:
Bring a face shield or glasses
Though all airlines require a face covering to board, a face shield is another safe way to protect yourself. However, sometimes wearing an oversize, bulky plastic device for a few hours in a confined space doesn’t sound cozy.
That’s why Dr. Jennifer Haythe, a critical care cardiologist at Columbia University Center, suggests wearing glasses instead. Even if you don’t need a prescription and have perfect 20/20 vision, cheap frames can provide an additional barrier of protection, since Covid-19 may be communicated through droplets. And if you’re going for glasses, don’t forget some of our favorite anti-fog spray.
Try these: ArtToFrames Protective Face Shield, Mask and Glasses Set ($19.99; amazon.com)
MeetSun Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses, 2-Pack ($14.98; amazon.com)
AmazonBasics Blue Light Blocking Safety Glasses, 6-count ($29.18, originally $34.62; amazon.com)
And lots of face masks
Among the most obvious necessities is a face mask, which can be either fabric or disposable. Keep in mind that it’s best to use a freshly washed or brand-new face mask every time. And in instances like this where you could be running quickly through an airport, the idea of a breathable face mask meant for exercise isn’t a bad idea either.
Try these: Everyday Nonmedical Masks, 5-Pack ($30; athleta.gap.com)
Assacalynn Disposable Face Masks, 50-Pack ($9.98; amazon.com)
Variety 5-Pack of Triple-Layer Cloth Face Masks for Adults ($12.50; oldnavy.gap.com)
The 100% Human Face Mask 5-Pack ($25; everlane.com)
Uniqlo Airism Face Mask 3-Pack ($14.90; uniqlo.com)
Reebok Face Covers 3-Pack ($30; reebok.com)
Don’t forget headphones to zone out
Since our red eye was poorly timed — departing at 5 p.m. on the East Coast and arriving at 7 a.m. in Denmark — we knew it wasn’t likely we’d be sleepy enough to catch z’s in the sky, so we prepared to watch movies by packing our own headphones. Sure, the airlines will provide these, but they may not be as hygienic as bringing a comfortable pair from your home, according to Dr. Nabeel Chaudhary of Manhattan Specialty Care. Oftentimes, wearing headphones and a mask for extended periods of time can get uncomfortable on your ears, so make sure to try out different kinds of headphones to see which is most comfortable to you. Big over-ear cans will go over your mask’s ear loops, and small buds can pop right into your ear, avoiding contact with any part of the mask.
If you want to watch movies on the seat-back screen, remember to bring headphones that will plug into the screen, since no airlines offer Bluetooth technology (yet). Or, if you have a set of bluetooth headphones you absolutely adore, you can snag an adapter to plug into the audio jack so you can stay wireless.
Try these: Anker Soundcore Life Q20 ($59.99; amazon.com)
Twelve South AirFly Pro Wireless Transmitter/Receiver ($54.99; amazon.com)
urBeats Wired Earphones ($59; amazon.com)
Sony WH1000XM4 ($348; amazon.com)
Apple AirPods Pro ($194, originally $249; amazon.com)
You’ll want a clean blanket
Once you’ve reached cruising altitude and the cabin pressure normalizes, you settle into your seat, only to suddenly feel freezing. The cool temperatures on a plane are part of the travel experience, but you may feel uneasy taking a blanket from a flight attendant during current circumstances.
And in some cases, airlines have stopped providing them to decrease possible contamination. To be on the safe side, Beverly Hills, California-based Dr. Shawn Nasseri says to bring your own travel blanket or scarf.
Try this: Easeland Soft Travel-Size Blanket ($19.90; amazon.com)
EverSnug Travel Blanket and Pillow ($24.95, originally $29.95; amazon.com)
BlueHills Premium Soft Travel Blanket ($24.79; amazon.com)
Eddie Bauer Packable Throw ($20, originally $40; eddiebauer.com)
Layers of gloves to avoid touching
You can’t have too many gloves when you’re getting from point A to point B via plane, according to Haythe. She says one easy way to be cautious is to pack many pairs of gloves for the journey.
“Wear a few layers of gloves and peel them off as you go through the airport,” she continues. “Remove one pair after security, another after boarding and finally when you arrive at your seat.”
Try these: Dre Health Powder-Free Disposable Gloves, 100-Pack ($26.98; amazon.com)
Disposable Latex Gloves, 100-pack ($26.99; amazon.com)
Lip balm to fight dehydration
If you’re someone who is constantly applying and reapplying lip balm, you may be doing more for your health and safety than you realize. As internal medicine urban health resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital Dr. Talía Robledo-Gil explains, airplanes are very dry places, and the dryness affects our moist mucus membranes. By applying balm or cream, we protect some of that moisture to prevent breaking down one of our respiratory systems of immunity.
Try this: Burt’s Bees 100% Natural Moisturizing Lip Balm, Mix Pack ($9.57, originally $11; amazon.com)
ChapStick Lip Moisturizer ($2.94, originally $4.45; amazon.com)
Pack a water bottle to keep hydrated
Is there anything H20 can’t do? It’s essential — and something you want to think about while flying. Dr. Ralph E. Holsworth, the director of clinical and scientific research at Essentia Water, says hydration assists the first line of defense for the body, and it’s essential to keep our immune system strong.
“Mucus requires water for formation,” he says. “Every cavity in the body is lined with cells that produce mucus, including cells in the ears, nose, throat, lung and gastrointestinal tract.”
When we don’t have enough water in our system, we lose the ability to fight back against bacteria. Be sure to keep a water bottle on hand, and those with a straw are even better since you don’t have to remove your mask to take a sip.
Try this: Healthy Human Water Bottle, 21-ounce ($29.99; amazon.com)
Yeti Rambler 26-ounce Bottle ($39.98; amazon.com)
Yeti Bottle Straw Cap for Rambler Bottles ($12.98; amazon.com)
Hydro Flask 32-ounce Wide Mouth Bottle with Straw Lid ($49.95; hydroflask.com)
CamelBak Eddy+ BPA Free Water Bottle ($14.99; amazon.com)
And a way to organize important papers
Before Covid-19, you probably made sure to have your boarding pass downloaded on your phone and a copy of your passport in your email — just in case. Looking forward, though, Dr. Sarma Velamuri, the founder of the health care tech company Luminare, predicts health certifications may be part of the boarding process.
Not to be confused with immunity passports, which have been roundly panned, Velamuri recommends carrying proof you’ve conducted syndromic surveillance for 14 days and you’ve tested negative before flying. In other words, being hyper organized before a flight right now is essential. Because my partner and I had to prove we were, in fact, romantically involved, we carried a copy of our lease and domestic partner certificate.
Try this: Skydue Expanding File Folder ($7.99, originally $9.99; amazon.com)
Wear lots of layers
Much like bringing a blanket along for the trip, layers are an easy way to stay warm while up in the air. Be sure to grab a sweatshirt and a super comfy outfit before the flight, since chances are you’re even less comfortable grabbing a last-minute item from an airport shop.
Try these: Doublju Basic Lightweight Pullover Hoodie (starting at $18.35; amazon.com)
Hanes Sport Women’s Performance V-Neck Tee (starting at $7; amazon.com)
Don’t forget hand sanitizer or soap
It’s been preached to us time and time again over the last eight months, but here’s another reminder: Wash your hands. Velamuri says this practice is more effective than hand sanitizer and should be prioritized during your travel day. Anytime you come in contact with high-touch areas, ensure you properly scrub with soap. And in the event the airplane or airport is running low, consider packing portable soap sheets to come in for a rescue.
Though having extra hand sanitizer (which should have at least 60% alcohol, according to the CDC) is never a bad idea either.
Try these: Kiseer Mini Portable Travel Soap Paper Sheets ($9.99; amazon.com)
Fomin 3-Pack (300 Sheets) Foaming Hand Soap Sheets ($11.99; amazon.com)
Suave Hand Sanitizer, 6-Pack ($26.94; amazon.com)