Dr. Laura sat down with Robin, Kerianne, Billy and Eric from Grand Classroom to talk about air travel during Covid 19.
Q. What updates have there been regarding air travel in the last few weeks?
A. Both Harvard and the Department of Defense have released studies saying that the risk of getting Covid 19 on an airplane is virtually nonexistent. This is because of the mask mandate on airplanes and because the air filters on planes are able to clear 99.99% of airborne viruses from the air in the cabin every 5 minutes or so. While all travel has an element of risk, the risk of getting Covid 19 on an airplane is quite low according to these studies.
Q. Where have you traveled by plane since Covid? What airports did you use and what airlines did you fly?
A. Our Grand Classroom panelists have flown from airports big and small - from large hubs like Las Vegas, Houston, and Chicago to little regional airports like Charlottesville, VA. Some flew direct and some took connecting flights. And they have flown a variety of airlines including Southwest, Delta, American, United, and Spirit.
Q. What personal safety equipment did you bring with you and was there any trouble getting this through security? Did the airport or airline provide any of these things for you?
A. All participants said they brought a mask, hand sanitizer, and sanitizing wipes with them and had no trouble bringing them through airport security. They noted that most airports had hand sanitizer available throughout the airport and that many airlines passed out wipes so that you could wipe down your seat area when you boarded the plane. Wearing a mask on all flights regardless of airline was MANDATORY, and all airlines enforced that masks were worn properly over the nose and mouth.
Q. Speaking of masks, did you feel comfortable taking your mask off to eat and drink? Did you eat and drink on your flight or in the airport?
A. Grand Classroom panelists said that every airport had at least some food options open before their flights and that on the flights, the only food and beverage options were bottled water and prepackaged snacks that are dropped off to passengers in sealed bags. Some felt comfortable eating at the airport and on the flight, while others chose to eat beforehand. Some purchased food at the airport and others brought their own snacks with them. All panelists said it was easy to remove the mask just for a little bit to take a bite or a drink and then put the mask back on.
Q. What was your experience like in the airport? Was it crowded? How was check-in? Baggage drop and pick up? Security screening?  Were you able to socially distance?
A. Grand Classroom panelists said that most airports were much less crowded than usual, although that did change depending on routing, dates of travel, etc. They noted that being in the airport was like being anywhere else these days - you can and should take all the same precautions at the airport that you would going to the grocery store etc. All airports had really clear signage that helped you stay 6 feet apart from other travelers when checking in and dropping bags. It was noted that you can also avoid the baggage carousel by bringing a carry-on bag, which is what we recommend for group travel even in normal times (to avoid lost luggage). Security only allowed a handful of passengers through at a time and screeners did not touch your ID; they only scanned it. Once through security you could find areas to sit where you were far apart from others.
Q. What was your experience like on the flight itself? How was boarding, seating and deplaning?
A. Panelists mentioned that on some flights middle seats were blocked; on other flights they had a whole row to themselves; and on some flights all 3 seats in their row were taken (note, Grand Classroom groups are seated together on flights). In terms of boarding and deplaning, it was a lot more relaxed than usual because they only let a few rows board/deplane at a time. All panelists noted how safe they felt on their flights because the mask mandate was enforced, and mentioned that planes appeared much cleaner than before Covid.
Q. Overall, did you feel safe traveling by plane - why or why not? And do you have any advice for groups that are getting ready to travel by plane or are considering plane travel?
A. All panelists said they did feel very safe traveling on an airplane - in fact a bit safer than in other places because everyone had to wear a mask. One panelist noted that she has pre-existing health conditions that put her at higher risk for Covid complications, but she still felt very secure flying because of the precautions being taken by the airlines. Another panelist recommended that individuals feeling nervous should feel free to take additional precautions so that they can feel as secure as possible - such as wearing an N-95 mask instead of a regular cloth mask or adding a face shield. While there are rules in place such as mask-wearing, groups also have a lot of freedom regarding how they mitigate risk - how far to sit apart from others while waiting at the airport, what kind of PPE to bring, whether or not they check bags etc. Overall, panelists noted that once you have traveled by plane and know what to expect, your anxieties go down a lot, and that in general it was a pleasant and safe experience.