One of the biggest news stories so far this year has been the spread of the China coronovirus around the world – cases have been confirmed in the US, South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Macau. This disease has added stress to anyone planning to travel this winter, beyond the usual cold and flu season concerns.
Airports are taking steps to protect those passing through. In the US, passengers travelling to certain cities from the Chinese city of Wuhan will be screened for 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or “2019-nCoV”. Singapore authorities are screening passengers arriving on all flights from China. In India, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharak International Airport has increased surveillance measures. Delhi Airport staff are checking inbound passengers from affected areas.
That doesn’t mean travellers should not take added precautions to stay healthy at 30,000 feet.
What’s a travelling germophobe to do on a plane? Here are the top 10 tips.
1. Wash your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. The CDC says it is the single most important infection control measure, and it lists it first among the guidelines for preventing the spread of disease on commercial aircraft.
2. Carry alcohol-based hand sanitiser with you (at least 60 per cent alcohol) in case water isn’t easily available.
3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands – you never know what you’ve touched.
4. Keep the air vents above your seat open to improve ventilation. Frequent flier and travel analyst Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research says he points the open vent to blow air away from him on every flight.
5. Wipe down the arm rests, tray table remote control and TV screen with sanitary wipes, and bring tissues to the bathroom to open the door.
6. Bring a face mask in case you’re seated next to someone who is coughing or sneezing. Harteveldt doesn’t use one but says it’s become routine for many passengers following the Sars epidemic in 2003. Flight crews are often recommended to use them when dealing with sick passengers with respiratory symptoms.
7. Pick a window seat and don’t budge. That was among the recommendations from a study published in March 2018 about how respiratory viruses spread on planes.
8. Ask a flight attendant if it’s possible to switch seats to move away from a sick passenger. The same March study found that passengers within two seats or a row of a passenger with a respiratory illness have an 80 per cent or greater possibility of getting sick, CNN reported.
9. Consult World Health Organisation’s travel advisory page, or government travel advisories for advice on travelling around the world. Some sites, such as the Travellers’ Health section of the CDC’s website, let you filter by destination and the type of traveller you are, from a family with children to someone with a chronic disease.
10. Do your fellow travellers a favour and don’t fly when you’re really unwell. The CDC recommends travellers stay home a minimum of 24 hours after a fever subsides.
But what about those nasty airline ticket change fees (US$200 plus any fare difference is common), you say? Two potential ways around them: buy travel insurance when you book your ticket (you won’t be covered if you buy it after you get sick) or kindly explain your situation to an airline customer service representative (offering a note from your doctor) and hope for a one-time waiver.