I did not make the decision to fly lightly. It was not a trip I took purely to spend the holidays with family, there were medical, professional, and personal reasons I needed to be back in America before the end of the year. In addition to several discussions with my family, I sought input from someone who works for the Center for Disease Control, and several doctors before making the choice to fly.
The answer to “is flying safe” is of course – nothing is actually safe right now except staying inside your home. Anytime you leave your home means you are in contact with other people, and you are at risk whether you are going to the grocery store, or flying on a plane. But since I have had to take flights year, there are strategies I have come up with and researched in order to fly as smartly and safely as possible.
When I considered air travel, the important thing brought to my attention was that not all flights, airports, airlines, and itineraries are the same. Even flight to flight, the experience can be vastly different. I had to think the threat of this particular flight, from CDG to LAX when making this choice. This was the third international long-haul I have had to take since March in 2020. I wasn’t traveling internationally for leisure at any point: each flight was something I had to take for medical, professional or family reasons – otheriwse I wouldn’t have flown. and so I wanted to write my thought process and experience on what it has been like, and why and how I chose to fly in November 2020.
France (where I currently live) had been under confinement rules for 27 days before the date of my flight. So it had a month since I had been into a single shop, restaurant, metro station, or any public event. I was essentially self-quarantined for 27 days prior to my flight, only leaving my apartment to exercise outdoors alone, go to the outdoor market, or do a few photoshoots outdoors (alone with my tripod) that were required for my business. Masks have been required by law outside since August, so anytime I was outside I was wearing a mask. The only person I had direct contact with was a neighbor in my building, who was also quarantined under the same conditions. I had no symptoms and had not been around anyone with symptoms.
Choosing Your Flight & Airline
To book my flight, I called Delta, my preferred airline, and asked them to tell me which fight was the least occupied during the week I wanted to fly. I had the flexibility to fly whatever day the flight was most empty so I was exposed to as few people as possible. Since France is under confinement, no one is currently taking vacations, and since Europeans do not celebrate Thanksgiving, I imagined there would not be the typical, holiday congestion that occurs in airports in America. This assured me the airport would not be busy and crowded.
Every airline is following different procedures, but I knew Delta is currently blocking out middle seats and requires a mask to be worn on the flight. They were helpful recommending the flight, and booking me the bulkhead seat by the window, so there was no one in front of me, and assured me there would be no one directly next to, or behind me. This would also keep me farthest from people in the middle aisle, and the airplane staff as they move about the aisleways. As it’s an international flight, it’s a large plane so I knew spread out seating would mean I wouldn’t have a direct neighbor. I called checked the seat map during the week to ensure that had not changed, and again upon check-in.
Testing in France is free and encouraged. I took two PCR tests, each three days apart prior to flying that gave instant results, the last one being the evening before my flight the next morning.
Protecting Myself and Others in Transit
Since France is under confinement, and Europeans are currently not allowed to enter the US, I knew that the international wing of Charles de Gaulle would not be very busy. Masks are also required inside the airport, at all times, from passengers and all staff, and there is hand-sanitizer everywhere. I put on my N95 mask, which is a respirator rated to capture 95% of particles, and face shield to protect my eyes the moment I left my apartment and did not remove it until I exited from LAX. I would not have flown without these two things, and without making the decision to never remove them.
While the plane did serve beverages and meals, I did not once remove my mask for any reason. While this is not required, I made the decision to just fast for 11 hours in order to secure my own safety and the safety of those around me. It was a personal decision to feel safest.
Going through the airport and security, I used gel before and after each time I touched anything, and continuously put gel on the handle of my luggage as I kept touching it to roll it through the airport. I stayed a 6’ distance from everyone I passed in the airport, and did not enter any airport store, or eat any food.
Boarding and On the Plane
At the gate, my temperate was checked prior to boarding. When boarding began, I hung back and let the entire plane board, finally boarding at last call after everyone was mostly seated and situated. This was to minimize any chance of being in a line of people, and I walked down the jetway completely alone.
Upon boarding, I wiped my entire seat and area down with medical-grade bleach wipes that a nurse was kind enough to give me. I also wiped down the tray table, seat belt, head and armrests, walls, screen, remote, window shades, and anything else I might touch. I then took out my sanitizing wand and used it on my phone, laptop, and hand luggage. The wand I have uses UVC LED technology, blasting bacteria and other pathogens with very short wavelength, high-energy UVC light to sterilize surfaces, effectively sanitizing surfaces without the use of chemicals. With a 30 second blast, the rays can kill up to 99.9 percent of germs. It also fits in your pocket, so it’s easy to take everywhere – and I do! (You can use the code ANNA50 for 50% off the price if you are interested in getting one.)
As I expected and hoped, the flight was quite empty. Since it is an international flight, it was a very large and spacious plane (There was one person per row, maximum, in coach, some rows empty entirely. The cabin crew wore a mask and gloves at all times and enforced it among the passengers. They also kept a distance while serving food and beverage to passengers, and kept service to a minimum during the flight.
When I had to use the restroom, I waited until there was no one in line to go. I used gel before, and a wipe to sanitize the inside and outside of the bathroom door, then washed my hands as usual, and returned to my seat.
Upon arrival, the airline required that people re-board slowly, row by row so no one is close or crowding the aisles. I remained a minimum 6’ distance from everyone as I walked through to immigration, and found the area to be empty, and the line nearly non-existent.
Upon exiting LAX, I used gel on my hands, and then used a wipe to wipe down my hand luggage and suitcase outside. I removed my shield and KN-95, and disposed of it, and replaced it with a new one. When I got home, I stripped down at the door, put my clothes in a trash bag to go into the washer, and went right into the hottest shower I could stand and used anti-bacterial soap.
I will be wearing a mask around my family at all times, and aside from an initial hug – keeping a safe distance while inside. My sister’s house has a separate downstairs with a separate entrance, where I will be staying. I will take another PCR test in a few days, and another a few days after that, and will continue to quarantine throughout the holidays and test every few days.
I do not think my flight and procedure was no risk, but with the advice of medical professionals, I took steps to make it as low risks as possible, and my family decided that me flying home was the right decision.
I wanted to share this process in case it’s helpful to other people who need to travel and want to do it as responsibly as possible. I’m not encouraging anyone to travel, but should you need to, I am sharing this in case it can help someone else. I would absolutely not have made the choice to fly if I had not discussed it with a doctor first, had confirmation that the plane was mostly empty, the airport would be mostly empty, that the airline strictly enforced wearing a mask, that I had the right protection, and that I could I test myself several times before and after flying and have a separate area to live in on arrival in LA.
I hope if you find yourself needing to fly, that something in this article is helpful to you.