If you're thinking about taking a trip or your upcoming ILP semester, it's probably a question on your mind (especially if you haven't flown since the start of the pandemic).
Prepping for any kind of trip always requires a bit of research, but there's an added element if you're planning on doing some traveling in the current pandemic. Hopefully research and personal experience from ILP volunteers and others can clear up some of the questions and concerns you may have.
Keep an eye on what things are like in each of our countries.
See the latest Covid-19 updates here
While policies will be different in every airport and every country, this post outlines a few things to know before hopping on a plane for your next adventure.
*Policies are ever changing. Information in this post was up to date as of April 2022 when this post was updated, but always double-check before you go.
What Does Flying Look Like?
As the world is opening up more and more, there's always a question about what flying looks like post worldwide pandemic. There are several resources that online guidelines and requirements to help any prospective travelers know what to expect when it comes to their health on flights, what the TSA is doing, and what is required by airlines and passengers. We will highlight some of the most pertinent in this post.
First, to help ease anxieties around the question of infection rates while flying. According to a 2020 CNN article, studies suggest that transmission rates of infection on planes are low. Part of this is due to the air filtration found in the airplane cabin. The vast majority of commercial jetliners are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, similar to those used in the hospital operating room. These filter out 99.7% of all airborne microbes. Thanks to these filters, the air inside of the cabin is refreshed every two or three minutes.
The research conducted by Boeing is also rather reassuring, estimating that the risk of contracting Covid on a flight is 1 in 1.7 million, stating "The cabin design and airflow system, coupled with other safeguards and precautionary measures, including passengers wearing masks and hand washing mitigate the risk of passenger-to-passenger transmission."
TSA Updates + Safety Precautions
Also good to know? The TSA has added regulations to know about, like how each passenger can allow up to 12-ounces of hand sanitizer for their flight in their carry-on luggage (a temporary exemption from the 3.4 oz rule carried in one quart-sized bag). You can read more about standard TSA regulations during the pandemic here, which include updated safety measures and cleaning procedures.
Bloomberg published an article that details the effectiveness of a few measures taken by airlines if you're interested.
A Few Airline Precautions
The risk of contracting the virus (or any other illness) on an airplane is reduced by the cleaning methods — many airlines are letting passengers know that cabins are scrubbed and cleaned regularly with anti-microbial disinfectants. . There are also some passenger requirements to know about that add to these safety measures.
It's recommended that you research the airlines and airports you're flying with to check you're comfortable with the measures taken to reduce the risk of infection while flying.
For example, you can check here for Delta's policies which outline the specifics like how they are sanitizing their aircraft in their "safer travel" section of their FAQ. You can take a peek at what certain airlines are doing specifically for their passengers by doing a quick search for the airline you have in mind.
The San Jose Costa Rica airport is also broadcasting their safety measures and putting out a helpful video for tourists to help them know what to expect upon arrival.
Know The Passenger Requirements
As of mid-April 2022, some airlines are no longer requiring passengers wear a mask during their flights. This is following the April 18 announcement that the Transportation Security Administration will no longer enforce the federal mandate requiring masks in all U.S. airports.
You'll want to double check the airlines (and flight route you will be flying), but airlines such as Delta ("masks are optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers inside U.S. airports and on board all aircraft domestically, as well as on most international flights."), United ("Masks are no longer required on domestic flights, select international flights (dependent upon the arrival country’s requirements) or at U.S. airports."), and Alaska Airlines (“guests and employees have the option to wear a mask while traveling in the U.S. and at work.”) are just a few who are dropping mandates.
We are recommending anyone applying for an ILP semester get the Covid-19 vaccination as soon as you can.
We’re seeing more and more countries add entry requirements to not only allow vaccinated travelers to enter the country but also skip the quarantine. Even if the ILP country you’re volunteering in doesn’t require the vaccine, other vacation destinations might — getting the vaccine could mean higher chances for you to get assigned to the country of your dreams and being able to vacation to all the countries you’ve been hoping to visit!
Just look at Europe: This summer, the EU will be opening countries based on if you’ve been vaccinated or not. That will make the difference between being able to go to somewhere like France, or having to stay in your country on vacation.
Additionally, vaccinated volunteers will have to worry less about contracting Covid-19 or getting seriously ill during their semester.
What You Can Do
While what airlines are doing helps add an extra layer of security, individual passengers can also take some precautions while flying.
The CDC encourages travelers to be vaccinated before traveling. They also suggest making sure you wear bring hand sanitizer with you (that's at least 60% alcohol). As of April 19, 2022, certain airlines are lifting mask requirements, but of course, you are welcome to wear a mask while flying if that helps you feel more comfortable.
Wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer frequently) after any high-touch points. You may also want to pack up some disinfectant wipes to wipe down your seating area as an added peace of mind.
The Mayo Clinic also has some suggestions to check out.
Hear From Some Frequent Fliers
We have been sending out groups of ILP volunteers to countries all over the world, and I've been on a few flights myself in 2021 and 2022. I've felt safer knowing the sanitation measures conducted by airlines but also being in charge of what I can be in control of.
I've flown Delta, Alaska, United, and Copa airlines recently and each passes out a sanitizing wipe when boarding (which I use). For peace of mind, I also pack my own wipes to wipe down the seatbelt, arm rests, entertainment screen, above light-and-air-conditioning-nozzle, and any other areas I'm likely to touch while on board. I also bring hand sanitizer in my bag to use before eating, drinking, or touching my face.
It's also helpful to know that on the way home from a foreign country, everyone on the flight has tested negative to return back to the United States, which is currently required.
We've also heard feedback from a few ILP volunteers about their opinion of flying abroad which is also good to know about. One volunteer did a little Q+A on her Instagram account after arriving in Thailand to teach English full time with ILP's professional teaching program. She said "sanitizing EVERYTHING, washing my hands, not touching my face, not getting too close to anyone, and being as cautious and careful as I can be" were the extra precautions (in addition to wearing a mask) she took while traveling.