There are many warnings about traveling internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic but do you know anyone who has actually done it?
A Lot Of Advice, With Out Experience
A recent article about driving through Mexico and Central America contained terrifying warnings about robberies, kidnappings, and murders – from people who had never been to Mexico or Central America.
Travelers who had driven through Mexico and Central America wrote stories of friendly and helpful locals, the beautiful countryside, and charming villages.
When I returned from China people who had never visited China wanted to know how I survived living in such an oppressive country – I was lucky to have escaped!
People who had visited China swapped stories with me about great food, exotic locations, friendly people, and funny cultural differences.
When we announced we were flying internationally we were warned about the dangers of flying amid the pandemic – by people who had never flown during the pandemic. We read articles by frequent flyers who had not flown during COVID-19 – against flying during COVID-19.
What Is It Really Like Flying Internationally During COVID-19?
Experiencing the reality of driving in Central America and living in China we wanted to know the reality of flying during COVID-19. We were not interested in random opinions from people without experience. So, we got on an airplane and flew internationally.
Overall we discovered it was safer than most people believe. The safety measures are not perfect so we don’t recommend flying if you are in a high-risk group.
You can read about our COVID-19 international travel experience here or watch our vlog:
During our trip, we came up with 7 ideas to make international air travel safer.
7 Tips To Make International Air Travel Safer During COVID-19
1. Fly early in the morning
The fewer people you encounter the lower your risk of infection. Fewer people fly early in the morning. We reluctantly choose a 5:00 AM departure. Other than the alarm going off at 2:30 AM this was a wise decision.
We did not see anyone along the short walk from our hotel room to our Uber. The early hour kept us isolated in a hotel full of people.
Scheduling an early hour departure at the airport, we experienced the same isolation. Both the drop-off area and terminal were almost empty. We saw 7 or 8 people along the long walk from drop-off to check-in. We did not come close to any of them.
The first group of people we encountered were at the check-in counter. Five people were in line all of whom wore masks while practicing social distancing.
The line at security was equally sparse but here people crowded together. During a busier hour, it would have been a disaster.
Because of the early hour, our plane was the only one departing. Other gates adjoining the waiting area were vacant leaving us with a variety of places to sit distanced from others. At a later time when more planes were departing this area could become crowded.
2. Travel first-class
First-class has at the most two seats together. If you are traveling with a partner then a stranger is not sitting centimeters away from you. Furthermore, coach has as many as four seats together which are closer together than in first-class.
Distancing is a big factor in avoiding infection.
But the cabin air does not discriminate between first-class and coach. Contrary to popular opinion, airplane air is clean. According to Boeing, the airline manufacturer, the air filters in an airplane are “high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters similar to those used in hospitals.” “Air circulation systems filter out more than 99.9% of viruses and bacteria, exchange the air every two to three minutes and create air flow that limits the spread of airborne contaminants.” It’s safe.
Yes, first-class is more expensive, but that is the cost of flying safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. Be the last person on board
Boarding an airplane is a strange psychological/social phenomenon. As a passenger, you know:
- There is a seat reserved for you.
- The seat will be cramped and uncomfortable.
- The plane will not leave while you are standing at the gate.
Yet almost everyone feels the need to get on board as quickly as possible. Don’t feel bad if you do this, “everyone” does this.
With first-class tickets, we were able to board first but we waited to board last. We did this so everyone on the plane would not be walking past us. It worked out well. Of the approximately 100 people boarding, only 3 or 4 walked past our seat thus we were reduced from exposer to 96 people.
4. Choose a flight with the fewest people
Reducing the number of people you have contact with keeps you safer. When booking our flight we checked the passenger load. The direct flights from Phoenix to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico were packed but by using a connection through Dallas the planes were half empty.
Yes, Dallas is out of the way. Flying via Dallas/Fort Worth we doubled our travel time, but the number of people on the planes was minimal. However, we increased the number of people we encountered by stopping at DFW airport. DFW had few travelers thus we were able to distance ourselves. I’m not sure how effective this strategy is unless you can find the same flight with fewer people.
5. Wear the right mask
Obviously, I don’t need to tell you to wear a mask. However, it is worth mentioning that depending on your destination you may be wearing that mask for several hours continuously. Make sure it’s comfortable and meets airline requirements. Some airlines specified the types of masks acceptable.
Also, carry several masks with you. I found the moister accumulation over the hours from exhaling made the mask too pliable at which time it began to block my nose. I put on a new mask and was fine.
6. Pack Familiar Medicines
If you do become infected with COVID-19 while you are traveling the chances are you will not become seriously ill but you will want relief. Having had food poisoning, the common cold, and who knows what exotic bug in many foreign countries I can tell you it’s wonderful to have the same medicines from home readily available. One time I was ill trying to find medicine in a language I could not read with packaging I did not recognize. You only need to learn that lesson once.
As an over 50 traveler I know which pain reliever works best for me, which brand is most effective in reducing fever, and what stops a cough so I can sleep.
The symptoms for COVID-19 in order of appearance are:
Pack a medical bag with items to relieve these symptoms and go to a hospital ASAP.
7. Purchase Medical Insurance Specifically For Travel
If you have American health insurance, American insurance companies often work to reduce or deny your coverage. Being in a foreign country provides ample opportunity for an insurance company not to pay.
The good news is that there are non-American companies designed specifically to provide medical coverage in most foreign countries.
We use Safety Wing. Knocking on wood, we have never had to use their services. I am recommending Safety Wing because
- It is a Norwegian company. Norway is a culture in which businesses believe and practice people over profit (not surprisingly, Norway is the ‘Happiest Country‘ in the world).
- Premiums are low because they do not cover long-term illnesses such as cancer treatment or long-term dialysis.
- When I call Safety Wing a real person answers the phone.
- I’ve always had my questions answered quickly and thoroughly.
- Safety Wing covers COVID-19.
Note: not all countries are covered including Cuba, Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Some countries have restrictions including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, The United States, and Venezuela.
Use these 7 Tips To Make International Travel Safer During The COVID-19 Pandemic
- Fly early in the morning
- Travel first-class
- Be the last person on board
- Choose a flight with the fewest people
- Wear the right mask
- Pack medicines you know and like
- Purchase medical insurance specifically for travel
Follow these 7 tips, wear a mask, wash your hands, and distance 1.5 meters (much further from the mask-less spreaders) and traveling can be safe during this pandemic.