Getting on a plane may not be at the top of your wish list right now. But some families are comfortable taking on some extra risk during the pandemic; others aren’t, but have to fly for one reason or another.
Whichever camp you fall into, it’s smart to take extra air-travel precautions this year. An MIT professor has calculated that the risk of catching the novel coronavirus on a flight is low—possibly 1/4300. But it’s not zero. Here are some of the precautions to consider if you’re taking off with your kids. Hopefully, they’ll lower your risk—and your stress levels, too.
Get everyone on the same page
Have a family meeting before the trip to talk about your family’s travel rules—like frequently sanitizing hands, keeping face masks on, and avoiding being close to other people. If your kids have flown before, explain that things may be different this time. Especially with smaller kids, remind them that they should touch as little as possible on the plane and in the airport.
If your kids are old enough, ask them for their input. What are they worried about? What ideas do they have to keep everyone healthy and happy during the flight? They’re more likely to cooperate on departure day if they’ve been part of the planning process.
Make snack and sanitation packs
Airport vendors may be closed—and even if they’re open, do you really want to be picking through bags of gummy bears or waiting in another line?
Give each family member some prepackaged snacks and a simple safety kit so you don’t have to dig through your carry-on every five minutes. Kits should include disinfectant wipes, tissues, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer.
The sanitizer is a must, says board-certified naturopathic doctor Olivia Audrey. Pick a brand that’s approved by the World Health Organization, and “use it periodically and after touching high traffic surfaces,” she says.
If you can, travel light and take your bags onto the plane with you. Fewer people will be touching your belongings than if you check luggage, plus you won’t have to spend as much time hanging around the airport.
Organize your carry-on to make your trip through security as smooth (and fast) as possible. Assign one family member to handle all of the IDs and boarding passes, to minimize touch points. Pack the documents in a zip-top bag, put them back in after the TSA has checked them, and disinfect them later.
Charge, download and stay tuned
The only thing worse than hunting around an airport for an electrical outlet is doing it while trying to stay six feet away from every other human being. Make sure all your devices are fully charged and that you’ve downloaded all the necessary apps and entertainment—including your airline app and diversions for the kids. Consider buying a power bank to take with you—they’re small, relatively cheap, and can charge your phone or tablet from your pocket.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s how quickly circumstances can change. Sign up for alerts from the airline, in case your flight is delayed or travel restrictions change. Follow the CDC and the WHO on social media for the latest health information, and check the news for your destination to avoid unpleasant surprises (hello, quarantine!).
Hit the bathroom
It’s easy to forget to usher kids to the bathroom before boarding, but especially crucial now. It’s much easier to stay away from other people in an airport lavatory than on board. And, you avoid one of those “I have to pee right now!” situations that always seems to happen in the middle of takeoff.
Wipe it down
Once you board, put those disinfecting wipes to good use. Give your seat, seat belt, television, window, arm rest, and any other surface you may touch a once-over. Consider using disposable gloves if you use the bathroom on board—though rememer that they don’t replace hand washing. (Also make sure you know how to remove gloves properly, and throw them away when you’re done.)
Keep your masks on
Most importantly, it reduces everyone’s risk of getting sick. But also, airlines require masks for all passengers over age 2. They have to be worn for the entire trip, unless you’re eating or drinking. In fact, consider packing a few extras, in case one gets lost or spilled on mid-journey.