How to fly safely this holiday season


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(CNN) – If you take the sky to visit friends and family on vacation, prepare to blast your way through crowded airports, crowded planes and frantic baggage lines with millions of fellow travelers.

“Everyone knows how close they will be to other people on a plane,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing flight attendants in the United States. “But they may not take into account the fill level of these airports. No space. No way to distance yourself socially.”

The bad news is that many Americans still won’t be fully immunized until Thanksgiving, including children under the age of 12 and those who, for whatever reason, choose not to be immunized.
Quite a few people may also be “newbies” to the strict federal mask mandate implemented in February, said Nelson, who has been a flight attendant with United Airlines since 1996.

“People need to understand that there is a federal mask policy,” she said. “It starts at the airport gate and continues throughout the process until you leave the airport at your destination.”

Here are eight tips on how to keep you and your family safe – and how to reduce stress – while you travel this holiday season.

Travelers lined up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last November. This year, air travel for Thanksgiving will be near pre-pandemic levels.

David Ryder / Getty Images

1) Vaccinate your child over 5 years old and give a booster

In the United States, children aged 5 and over are now eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, but like adults, they are not fully protected until two weeks after the second dose. Because there was not enough time between vaccine availability and Thanksgiving for children in this young age group to receive their second vaccine, none will be fully immunized during the Thanksgiving travel period.

Parents and children should continue to use masks and respect social distancing while traveling and consider socket a quick Covid test before reuniting with family, Wen said.

If you are an adult who has yet to receive your booster after being fully immunized earlier this year, please do so now, she added.

“We know that immunity to symptomatic infections wanes over time, so I strongly recommend anyone eligible for a booster of get yourself vaccinated at least two weeks before you get together with your family for the holidays, ”said Wen.

2) Fly outside opening hours and on less busy days

If you can travel to and from your destination on less busy travel days, you and your family will meet fewer people and may be able to do more with social distancing, said Linsey Marr, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, who is a leading expert in the transmission of viruses by aerosol.

“This is especially important if you have children under the age of two who cannot wear a mask,” Marr said. “You can also try to book flights at off-peak times, later in the evening or very early in the morning, to try to avoid the crowds.”

Because not many people have more than a few days off for Thanksgiving, peak travel typically takes place on Thanksgiving eve, which this year is November 24, and Sunday, November 28. The holidays themselves, November 25 of this year, are often less busy. .

People check in for their flights at LaGuardia Airport on November 25, 2020.

People check in for their flights at LaGuardia Airport on November 25, 2020.

Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images

3) Reserve window seats

Experts suggest reserving window seats for children (or adults) who are not vaccinated, in part because of the air vents along the interior panels of most planes.

“We think the least risky seat is the window seat, because the airflow models may be better for the window seat,” said Marr.

“This is where the fresh air is pumped, so most of the airflow occurs through a window,” Nelson said.

Another added bonus: “You don’t have people walking past you in the aisle,” Marr said.

A masked passenger is seen sitting on a flight from San Francisco, Calif. To Newark, New Jersey on October 27, 2020.

A masked passenger on a flight from San Francisco, California to Newark, New Jersey in October 2020.

Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

4) Wear well-fitting, high-quality filtration masks

Invest in a high-quality mask for travel, one that will trap around 95% of virus-sized particles when properly fitted to the face, experts say.

“I would definitely recommend travelers, including children, to all wear high quality masks – ideally an N95 or KN95 or KF94,” Wen said. “And there are a variety of sizes for these types of high quality masks as well, so you can get a good fit.”

Fit is key, Marr said, as is comfort. Look for a mask that fits every unique face and that is comfortable enough that you or your child can wear it for hours, Marr said.

“If, when you breathe out, you feel air escaping past your eyes or out the sides, you’ll know it’s not a good fit,” Marr said, adding that it’s best. to shop early “because you will have to try on a lot of different masks to see which suits you best.”

Passengers pass through Los Angeles International Airport ahead of the Thanksgiving vacation on November 25, 2020.

Passengers pass through Los Angeles International Airport ahead of the Thanksgiving vacation on November 25, 2020.

Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images

5) arrive early

Don’t expect to cross the airport. Social distancing takes longer during baggage drop-off and security checks, if that is even possible. And opening US borders to international travelers, while good news for the US economy, could cause even more delays.

“This is very good news, and only people who have been vaccinated can travel to the United States. However, this influx brings travelers with more documents that need to be verified, which can indeed slow things down even further,” said Nelson.

“Plan to come an hour earlier than usual, to give yourself plenty of time to not feel the stress of not completing the process and being on time for your flight.”

Families gathered at Dulles International Airport on November 8, 2021, when the United States reopened to vaccinated international travelers.

Families gathered at Dulles International Airport on November 8, 2021, when the United States reopened to vaccinated international travelers.

OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP / AFP via Getty Images

6) be prepared for safety

Savvy travelers know how to minimize the time they spend safe. This includes having no change, no belts, and no shoes with ties. Seasoned travelers take off their watches and put away their overcoats or jackets ahead of time – and have their laptops and toiletries ready to be removed and put in the trash.

But even seasoned travelers seem to have forgotten how to fly over this long period of dry travel, Nelson said: “I see people who were frequent travelers, now coming back for the first time in a long time and every person’s bag was being put on. aside because they had something in it that was a forbidden object, like a water bottle.

“It’s like everyone has forgotten how to travel! So it creates even more chaos,” she said.

Each airline has links to a list of prohibited items on their website, Nelson added, “and it’s a good idea to review them before you pack.”

7) delay your meal

Because federal guidelines require masks to be worn at all times, except when eating or drinking “for brief periods,” Nelson recommends replacing the mask whenever you take a break to eat.

“If you are actively eating, taking bite after bite, we’re not going to say you have to lower and raise your mask every time,” Nelson said. “But if you take a bite out of a sandwich, put it down, look at your phone, take a moment, then the idea is that you lift your mask while you chew until you are ready for the next bite. . ”

You can also protect yourself by eating when everyone is masked, suggested Marr.

“When they come and serve drinks and snacks I take it but I don’t eat them right away because that’s when everyone took off their masks,” she said. . “I wait to eat until people have finished eating and put on their masks.”

8) stay in your place if you can

Getting up and moving brings you closer to others on the plane, who may or may not be vaccinated or who follow the advice of the mask. While the risk of Covid-19 from such exposures may be low, there are other concerns.

The airline industry saw an explosion of unruly passenger incidents in 2021, including a recent case in which a flight attendant was punched in the nose. While not all of these altercations were due to masks, quite a few were, Nelson said.

“Maybe it’s not just Covid that’s a risk,” Nelson said. “It could be an outright fight, and you could get slapped by someone struggling.”

Flight attendants suggest staying in your seat should such an incident occur.

“We are trained in de-escalation, and also how to lead others to help,” she said. “So unless there is an immediate threat that people will be injured, we really do not advise passengers to take action on their own, as they could inadvertently make the situation worse.”

Top image: Travelers go through security at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on November 29, 2020 (Photo by David Ryder / Getty Images)

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