Traveling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

October 12, 2020

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

Stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions have been relaxed in many places around the U.S. and in some overseas vacation destinations, as well. As the holidays approach, many Americans will want to take advantage of the opportunity to travel for the first time in months. If you are planning a trip, here's what you should know.


COVID-19 is airborne. Protect your air.

Remember that COVID-19 is an airborne virus. This means that the risk comes more from what you breathe in than what you touch. That’s why it is essential to:

  • Wear a mask anytime you are around other people.
  • Maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet from others (but the more, the better.).
  • Avoid people who are coughing or sneezing.


You should still wash your hands. 

Pandemic or not, your mother was right: Wash those hands! 

  • Scrub for 20 seconds with soap and warm water thoroughly after touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
  • Never touch your eyes or nose if your hands aren’t clean.
  • Hand sanitizers are useful in a pinch, but handwashing is much more effective.


Taking a road trip? Don’t let COVID-19 hitch a ride.

In addition to the guidelines above, here are some tips for staying safe on the road:

  • Stop as infrequently as possible. 
  • Don’t touch other people or their pets.
  • If you’re getting gas, pay at the pump. (Wash your hands afterward.)
  • If you’re picking up snacks, send just one person into the store.
  • If you’re stopping to eat, use drive-throughs and dine outdoors or in your car.


Hopping a flight? There’s good news — and bad news.

The good news is that air in the plane’s cabins is filtered through HEPA filters and exchanged frequently. You will still want to wear your mask on board, but you are breathing much cleaner air than you breathe anywhere else. 

The bad news? To take a flight, you have to go to an airport, and you are at highest risk of contracting the virus when you’re in the airport. Again, wearing a mask and keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from others is absolutely essential.


Stay healthy with these additional tips:

  • When booking, fly with airlines that aren’t filling middle seats. 
  • Check in online.
  • Eat before you go to the airport so you can keep your mask on at all times once there. 
  • If you can afford it, drive yourself to the airport, and use long-term parking. Another good option is to get someone in your household to drop you off. If you do get a cab, sit in the backseat, and keep the windows open. Avoid public transportation if at all possible.
  • Check your luggage curbside, if possible.
  • If traveling with a group, have just one person handle interactions (at shops, counters, etc.) to limit exposure.
  • When boarding and deplaning, maintain distance: Don’t crowd the gate when boarding, and don’t crowd into the aisle when waiting to deplane.
  • Leave your seat’s overhead air nozzle on — it helps move virus particles away from you. (Since the airflow may make you chilly, be sure to have something warm to wear inflight; many airlines have stopped offering blankets during the pandemic.)

The tips above will help you reduce your risk while traveling, but please keep in mind that the safest thing to do is stay home. 


Our doctors are here for you.

If your school or employer provides you with First Stop Health telemedicine, our doctors are here for you when you’re sick, run out of a prescription while traveling, or have any questions or concerns about COVID-19. You can also visit our Coronavirus Resource Center for more information. 


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Originally published Oct 12, 2020 7:53:20 PM.