I’m a Nurse—Here’s Why I’m Not Afraid to Fly

I've flown twice during the pandemic and I'm planning more domestic trips—as long as you're properly prepared and follow the guidelines, I think it's less risky than taking a road trip right now.

In 2019, I walked away from a 15-year career as a certified pediatric nurse practitioner to focus my full attention on a travel company I started in 2017. My company, Boutique Travel Advisors, specializes in luxury, bespoke, and customized travel itineraries around the world. I’ve been to over 35 countries and wanted to share my passion for travel and adventure by assisting others to curate unique, socially responsible, and off-the-beaten-path experiences.

This may be surprising, given the current climate of the travel industry and my background in healthcare, but I’m not afraid to fly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, I’ve flown twice since January and will continue to do so. Let me explain why:

All travel inherently has risks

The first thing we need to acknowledge is that any type of travel increases your chance of contracting COVID-19—as well as any other viruses or infections. Travel has inherent risks because you have no control over who you’re exposing yourself to. You don’t know who’s going to be standing next to you in the line at security or who’s going to be sitting next to you on the plane.

But at the same time, we have inherent risks in our daily lives, too. We have risk going to the grocery store, we have risk when we choose to socialize with people from other households, we have risk when we choose to participate in car travel or RV travel or camping travel.

Road trips may have more virus exposure than flying

People seem to be gravitating toward road trips right now, but I don’t necessarily think that flying is a higher-risk activity than driving. What a lot of people don’t think about when they’re driving is all of the different touchpoints that you have when you’re driving from point A to point B. If you’re flying from say, Phoenix to Denver, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour flight. You can get on the plane, bring your own food and water, disinfect surfaces with your own Clorox wipes, avoid using the restroom, and limit your contact with other people.

On the other hand, if you’re driving from Phoenix to Denver, you’re traveling for two days. Think of all of the gas stations that you’re stopping at to pump gas, all of the rest stops that you’re stopping in to use the restroom, all of the people that you’ve come in contact with, the hotel that you have to stay at on the road overnight. I think if you really are very conscientious about how you fly, you may have the same or lower risks flying as you do driving. Find out what one family wishes they knew before they headed out on a road trip.

Domestic flights are less risky than international

At the moment, I feel confident booking travel for myself on flights within the United States, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend traveling internationally right now. Not only are we currently restricted from most foreign travel, but shorter flights have some advantages. First, you’re less likely to have to use the bathroom. So right off the bat, you’re limiting the number of touchpoints and surfaces that you have to touch.

Next, it’s easier to bring your own food and water for shorter flights instead of having to rely on the food and drinks that have been touched by flight attendants. (not to mention, airlines are cutting back on meal and drink service). On an international flight, it might be difficult to bring enough water for a 10- to 12-hour flight.

Finally, U.S.-based airlines have really implemented a lot of safety and cleanliness procedures that mitigate the risks of contracting COVID-19—in general, they are doing more than they’ve ever done before. Right now, all major U.S. airlines are requiring passengers to wear masks. And, currently, I prefer to fly Delta and Southwest because they’re still committed to blocking the middle seats, at least through September 30 and October 31, respectively.

Flying in airplane, airliner, aeroplane at high altitude with view of aircraft wingAndrew Merry/Getty Images

Airplane filtration systems are excellent

Most people don’t know the truth about air on airplanes—contrary to popular belief, about half of the cabin air comes in fresh from outside the airplane. So it’s not all recirculated and stagnant. There’s still so much we don’t know about the virus. We don’t really know how fast the virus spreads or whether it even gets into a circulation system to be filtered before it has the opportunity to infect another person. But what we do know is that the airplane filtration systems are excellent and filter out most of the particles that are smaller even than the COVID-19 virus. When I get on an airplane, I immediately wipe down the vents with a disinfecting wipe then open them up to increase the air circulation around me.

Bring your own protective gear

The more you limit your number of touchpoints, the more you limit your chances of coming in contact with an infected surface or an infected person—so, it’s important to take steps to mitigate risks. Two of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection are hand hygiene and face coverings.

We wear face masks or face shields. And, actually, goggles are a good idea for people who may be at higher risk but still want or need to fly. When you cover your nose, your mouth, and your eyes, you’re really limiting many of the ways that you can contract the virus. When airlines require other passengers to also cover their faces, then you’re also limiting how much other people’s germs are spreading to you.

Instead of going into the airplane’s bathroom just to wash your hands, bring your own hand hygiene on board. The TSA relaxed their rules for hand sanitizers and you can now bring up to a 12-ounce container per passenger.

Know your risk level and abide by it

By now, most everyone knows that they must do their part to limit the risk that they pose to others. This means not traveling if you’re sick, not traveling if you have an immunocompromised or a high-risk person at home living with you, and not traveling if you are an immunocompromised or high-risk person. We know that while everyone is at risk for getting coronavirus and spreading coronavirus, certain populations are at much higher risk of getting very sick from it—people with pre-existing conditions and people who are older.

I’m in my 30s, relatively healthy, and don’t have pre-existing conditions—so I’m not at high risk. My children are 9 and 11 and are very good about wearing their masks and not touching things. But if I had an infant who couldn’t wear a mask or lived with an elderly relative, I might take a different approach.

Assess the risk vs. the reward

For me, personally, there’s a risk versus benefit assessment with everything that I do. And so as far as travel, as long as I can do it safely and responsibly—meaning I follow CDC guidelines and recommendations, I’m very conscientious of social distancing for myself and my children, I try to limit our exposure to others and also limit other people’s exposures to us as much as possible—I feel relatively comfortable traveling.

I don’t think there are enough conversations being had about the risks and benefits of not flying and not traveling. Millions of people around the country are completely socially isolated. They’re separated from their families, their friends, their loved ones. They’re missing graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and funerals. And I think you have to truly decide at what point is it worth a little bit of a risk to take the flight, knowing that anytime you travel you are inherently increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19 and other viruses? Though, if you’re heading to the Northeast, you’ll also need to factor in the travel advisories various states have put in place for visitors from states with higher rates of transmission.

I believe travel has the power to change lives, eliminate biases, provide meaningful family time, and teach children invaluable life lessons. Exploring a destination’s culinary traditions, art and history are some of my favorite ways to learn about a new culture and connect with local residents. Planning travel itineraries that capture the spirit of adventure and benefit local communities through my company Boutique Travel Advisors is highly rewarding.

Is it worth the risk because what you’re going to potentially lose out on is too great of a loss? We have family members on the East Coast and in Chicago. And I plan to fly to see my family because it’s important enough to me to be able to spend time with my family members—especially aging grandparents because we don’t know how much time we have with them. And we don’t know how long this is going to last. And so at some point we have to decide if the social isolation is as great of a threat as the virus itself for people who are living alone and truly separated from their loved ones. Next, here are 8 things a nurse wouldn’t do even after lockdown ends.

For more on this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Editor’s note: The opinions here belong to the author. To submit your own idea for an essay, email [email protected].
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