Flying in a Pandemic


USA Today

Flying during the pandemic can be safe as long as the right precautions are taking place.

Flying in a pandemic can be a sensitive topic because people have mixed opinions on travel. Josh Erb is a pilot for JetBlue and he has had the opportunity to fly to places such as DC, NYC, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm since the beginning of the pandemic. “I feel very safe traveling on an airplane as a passenger and as a pilot. Mask wearing is very strict at the airports and on the airplanes. It’s considered very low risk for transmission,” says Erb. He feels it is very safe to be traveling now. Mask-wearing is enforced and not many people are getting sick from flying. Some planes have even turned around and dropped off people that weren’t following mask guidelines. 

“The safety protocols at the airport are similar to other public buildings with signs telling us to wear masks and stay six feet apart,” Erb says. “There’s plenty of space to spread out in the terminal and they board from the rear of the plane forward.” Erb explains that flight attendants have been boarding people on the aircraft from the rear forward to have fewer people come in contact with each other through exiting and entering the plane. 

Even though airlines are changing how people get on and off the planes, the factor of how many people on them still stands. 

“We get an email each day with how many flights there are for the day and how full they are,” Erb says. “Earlier in the pandemic the flights were only twenty-five percent full or less but now it’s pretty consistent at around sixty-five to seventy percent or more. So a typical flight on an Airbus 321 to Orlando will have about one hundred and thirty passengers.” 

Back when the quarantine started, planes had fewer people on them, but now that people are freer to live their lives in a pandemic, the planes get up to around their normal capacity. Furthermore, “There’s less people than previous years but it’s not as bad as earlier in the pandemic. It was sad seeing how empty the airport was in the beginning. But the airport is getting busier as people are getting tired of staying home and they realize that it’s very safe,” according to Erb. Pilot Josh Erb has no qualms that traveling on a plane isn’t safe now and he has had the experience to back up his opinion on it. 

In addition to how the passengers are acting on the planes, the pilots have had to make some changes too. 

“The flying hasn’t changed much from a pilot’s perspective, other than wearing a mask and thoroughly wiping down the controls and switches when first getting into the flight deck,” Erb explains. “Early on there was much less air traffic so there weren’t as many delays when the weather was not good.” The flights were able to have fewer delays because there weren’t as many aircrafts flying, but now that more people are choosing to travel by plane, the airports have gone back to their normal delays. The pilots are also taking precautions to keep everyone safe. 

Julie Jackson flew from Boston to Tampa as a passenger to help her in-laws at their house in Florida. 

“I was in the Boston airport on a Thursday and it seemed as busy as it would typically be,” she says. “Some restaurants and coffee shops were closed, but many were open. People were eating at tables at the restaurants in the airport. The only real difference I noted was that the seats in the terminal were roped off so you could only sit in every other seat and everyone was wearing masks. Although a number of them were not wearing masks correctly.” Jackson found that since masks are required, people will wear them but they may not be wearing them in the correct way. Also, just like Erb, Jackson noticed the social distancing that was used. “There were spots to stand in line for coffee shops and restaurants to encourage social distancing. There was no social distancing in the security line, so that was the one area I thought there could be improvement,” she says. Julie Jackson found that the distancing rules were easy to bend. 

Jackson also noticed the number of people that were on her flight. “The planes were nearly or completely full both ways. I think there was one open seat on the way down. I heard on the way back that the flight was totally full,” she says. Even though social distancing and mask-wearing are required in the airport, people are very close on airplanes. Flying may seem hazardous, but vaccination could be a way to feel more comfortable through air travel. “I think if you are low risk or vaccinated, flying is probably ‘safe enough.’ I am vaccinated and my in-laws really needed help. So for me, for this trip, it felt like an easy decision,” says Jackson. “I also know that the studies that have been done about transmission on airplanes have shown the risk is low. There is no social distancing on the plane though. They are not requiring a negative COVID test or proof of vaccination to fly. So if I were higher risk and not vaccinated, I wouldn’t do it.” Jackson feels as though traveling can be safe as long as the right precautions are taking place.