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Coronavirus FAQs

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Coronavirus: is air travel safe?

03 September 2020 09:08

Take to the skies with peace of mind.

Take to the skies with peace of mind.

Some would-be flyers are worried about taking to the skies for a late summer getaway. Understandably so. But allow us to outline why jetting off on your next holiday is safer than you might think.

Is air travel safe?

Research from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggests that plane passengers are no more likely to fall ill from an infectious disease than other people in a confined space. And that was before airlines and airports introduced new safety measures to minimise the risk of spreading coronavirus. Social distancing in terminals, temperature checks and added hand sanitiser locations are now all part of boarding a flight in 2020.

What are passengers' main concerns?

A survey from the IATA found that 65% of air travellers are worried about sitting next to someone who might be infected with Covid-19 and 42% worry about using the on-board toilets. Meanwhile, 37% are worried about breathing the air in the plane.

Will I have to maintain social distance?

Although there's no official guidance to block middle seats or keep rows empty to enforce social distancing on planes, some airlines have been taking the extra precautions to help alleviate travellers' fears. You can check if your airline has a similar policy, but if it doesn't, a face covering will help protect you. It's essential for passengers in England, Scotland and Wales to wear a mask for the duration of their flight. In Northern Ireland, a face mask is recommended rather than mandatory.

You should maintain social distancing at check-in desks, security checkpoints and departure lounges. Ditto while finding your seat and stowing your hand luggage, when you'll asked to keep your distance from other passengers and staff. Passengers also have a duty to stay in their seat as much as possible during their flight.

Although airlines will encourage contactless payments and offer reduced food and drink services, passengers can remove their face covering to eat or drink. You can also remove your mask to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading, or to avoid harm or take medication. And thankfully the backs of seats also help block the path of droplets we breathe out through our noses and mouths. Not that you should be unduly concerned about air cleanliness...

How clean is the air on a plane?

Surprisingly clean. Advanced ventilation systems mean that the 'replacement rate', or the number of times a volume of air equivalent to the volume of the cabin is removed each hour, is quicker than you might think. In fact, the turnaround takes as little as three to four minutes, compared with 20 to 30 minutes in most indoor environments on the ground. Although this doesn't mean every gas molecule is replaced every few minutes, the risk of exposure to airborne diseases is significantly reduced.

The air recirculated through planes travels through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, trapping any particles wider than 10 nanometres. Around 99.97% of Covid-19 particulates, which are roughly 125 nanometres wide, are filtered out by the system for a cleaner cabin.

Will it be safe to use a toilet?

Those worried about using on-board toilets will be happy to hear the European Union Aviation Safety Agency has asked airlines to improve their cleaning practices. Its recently published guidelines demand more thorough and frequent cleaning in toilet areas.

The UK government has even asked operators to “consider providing sanitation wipes to customers to clean the surfaces around them.” To help limit possible transmission, Ryanair says passengers will need to ask permission to use its in-flight facilities.

What can I do before my flight to stay safe?

A safe flight starts long before you reach the airport. If possible, avoid using public transport to make your way to the terminal. Although members of your household or support bubble can travel with you, all non-passengers should avoid entering the airport. You must wear a mask in enclosed areas of airports in England and all areas of airports in Scotland. In Wales and Northern Ireland, it's recommended that you wear a mask in airports.

Online check-in services will minimise your contact with other passengers and airline staff, and you should try to avoid touching surfaces around the terminal. Expect to keep your distance during security checks and follow the advice on signs and from staff to keep contact to a minimum. Once you're 'airside', you should avoid wandering around the departure lounge and mixing with other people. Shops at the airport will operate using social distancing, so keep an eye out for any signs and information directing you where to go.

Regularly washing your hands for 20 seconds, especially after touching surfaces, will help kill unwanted germs. You'll find hand sanitiser stations dotted around the airport and may want to bring your own supply for your hand luggage. Remember to carry liquids in containers of under 100ml in a single plastic bag and to follow the restrictions for taking liquids through security.

Is there anything else I can do to stay safe?

Some simple precautions will help make your flight a safer one. Avoid booking at busy times and using popular routes as best you can, and try to take as little hand baggage with you on your flight. This will speed up boarding and leaving the plane, and reduce the need to rummage through overhead storage. If you're flying short haul, try using the toilet shortly before boarding to reduce the need to walk in the aisles too.

Be sure to check the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office's (FCDO) safety advice for your destination and advice on safer air travel for passengers. And remember you'll need to fill in a passenger locator form 48 hours before you return to the UK.

Finally and crucially, arrange travel insurance. All World First policies automatically include our enhanced coronavirus travel insurance extension - free of charge. That means you're covered against certain types of holiday disruption caused by coronavirus.

Take a look at our coronavirus FAQs or feel free to get in touch with our customer service team to discuss any further travel insurance questions you have. We are here to help.