The only way to eliminate risk is to not fly at all – so think about whether your trip is strictly necessary. If it’s a short-haul flight, and you can, think about driving instead.
External variables that may increase the risk of catching the virus include the infection levels where your flight is departing from and where you’re heading. You should be particularly careful if you are older or more vulnerable due to a pre-existing condition, or visiting someone in that position.
If you do fly, there are plenty of simple precautions you can take. Avoid checking in bags and plan your timings so you can spend as little time as possible in the airport. If there is an outdoor terrace, then try to stay there.
Even though most airlines and many airports are now providing wipes and sanitiser, you should bring your own so you can make sure to disinfect surfaces, like your seat belt, and personal belongings, like your passport. You could also bring wipe-friendly zip bags in which to carry your ID. Wash your hands or use sanitiser as often as you can – preferably every time you touch any surface.
When it comes to staying safe in the cabin, try to book a window seat. Having a wall on one side will significantly reduce the number of people you are exposed to. If you’re travelling as a group, try and make sure you sit together: splitting up will increase your risk of exposure.
Once you’re seated, you should make sure to turn on the air vent above your head. ‘If you turn on the ventilation stream, that creates an air barrier between you and the other passenger,’ explains Dr Tang. ‘It shoots down and it pushes out anything you breathe out.’ Then stay put and avoid walking up and down the aisle, as this could bring you into contact with contaminated air from other passengers.
Finally, as the World Health Organisation, the vast majority of governments and every airline are now advising or requiring, you should also wear a mask. A recent review, published in the Journal of Travel Medicine in September, brought together all available data on in-flight transmission and concluded that ‘strict use of masks appears to be protective’.
‘If we all wear masks, we all protect each other,’ added Dr Tang. ‘You also protect yourself somewhat, using the mask. If you mask, then you reduce the incoming aerosols [tiny air particles] by about six-fold, and you reduce the outgoing aerosols by about 20 or 30-fold. That protection works both ways, for everybody.’