Flying safer with precautions

An American Airlines ticket agent standing behind a splatter guard checks in travelers at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on Nov. 12. John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

This editorial appeared in the Press-Republican on May 26:

PLATTSBURGH — For fully vaccinated people, the skies seem friendly again.

As of [May 26], 45.6% of the people in the north country had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 41.1% had completed the series. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they finish both shots of Pfizer or Moderna or the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

At that point, they can safely travel within the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control guidance. But many may feel trepidation about getting on a plane after a year of caution and fear.

First off, remember that, although many states now say that fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks indoors or out, the protections are still required aboard airplanes, buses and trains. Air travel may look different these days, but it feels quite safe, according to some Press-Republican correspondents who flew recently.

When you arrive at an airport, you are greeted by signs reminding you that you must put on a mask as soon as you cross the terminal threshold. And it has to stay on your face through boarding, the entire flight and until you leave your destination airport.

You can remove the mask once you are seated at airport restaurants, just as in the outside world. And you can take it down, briefly, to eat or drink while in the waiting areas and on the planes.

The napkins handed out with Delta snacks include a picture of a facemask and this message: “Done Snacking? Please mask up when not eating or drinking,” and, in small type: “Federal law requires wearing a mask in airports and on planes.”

That rule is broadcast at airports and reiterated in the flight announcements heard before takeoff. The flight attendants remind passengers to put their masks back on if they forget.

It’s easy to social distance in airport terminals these days because traffic and airline flight routes are still down considerably from pre-pandemic numbers. Some gate waiting areas have every few seats marked with an X, but other airports leave it up to passengers to space themselves.

Free hand-sanitizing stations can be found all over airports, so Purell is never more than a few steps away. If planes have room, middle seats are still being left open, which is a great bonus for passengers. But as more people return to flying, that amenity is disappearing.

The airlines all provide information on their cleaning and sanitizing efforts, and some give out hand-sanitizer-wipe packets as you board. Studies have shown that air flow on planes, which circulate fresh air down and out continuously, helps dissipate much of the respiratory spew that spreads COVID-19.

One drawback of pandemic-related changes is that flight attendants are no longer helping people stow their carry-on bags overhead. Other passengers may be willing to help, but if you can’t lift your bag up into the compartments, you are wise to pay for checked luggage or travel light.

Most Americans have suffered through more than a year of not being able to fly to see loved ones or for vacation, so it’s good to know that you can take to the air safely once you have those vaccinations.

© 2021 Press-Republican

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