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Is it safe to fly? Far-flung Bay Area families weigh coronavirus risk
Abstracted from an article by Sarah Feldberg
June 20, 2020 | Updated: June 25, 2020 1:39 p.m. | San Francisco Chronicle

For Bay Area residents with relatives nearby, visiting during the pandemic comes with extra precautions: masks, backyard meals with physical distancing, and no hugs or handshakes. But for those with loved ones a flight away, the decision is more complicated. It means considering the threat of infection while flying versus the pain of missing funerals, births, and graduations. And considering your own infectious threat to those you are visiting and how much of a quarantine to self impose.

“Flying is an accumulation of a bunch of things that in general imply higher risk,” says Bob Wachter, chair of UCSF Medicine. “It is staying in fairly close contact with a whole lot of people you don’t know, it is doing that indoors, it is doing that for long periods of time.” There’s the ride to the airport, security lines, using a public restroom, buying a snack and walking down the jetway to board — a process bringing you in contact with strangers and the surfaces they touch every step of the way. None is particularly dangerous on its own, but each adds to the overall chance of exposure.

Airports and airlines are taking measures to mitigate risk, like physical distancing markers, providing masks, new cleaning procedures, boarding protocols, limited capacity (but often only by 30%), and suspending food and beverage service to minimize contact between crew and passengers. They have also begun requiring face masks, the single most important safety measure. But these have not been consistently enforced until Monday (June 22) when the trade group Airlines for America announced its seven member carriers — Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and United — would be “vigorously enforcing face covering policies.” And on United and JetBlue, those not complying will be added to a restricted list and banned for a period of time. So at least airlines are getting more serious about the safety of all onboard. But the decision to fly is still a very personal one, based on need and the risk to yourself and those you are visiting.

If you do fly: Smart precautions for air travel

Minimize contact: look for an airline that has blocked middle seats, fly at less crowded times, book a window seat so you’re in proximity to fewer people during the trip. Carry on: the fewer people who touch your bag the better. BYO-everything: bring your own snacks and water bottle.  Sanitize: TSA allows up to 12 oz of liquid hand sanitizer in carry-ons. Clean your hands every time you touch a public surface. Avoid the tiny airplane bathroom: go before you board. Wipe down: bring alcohol wipes to give your seat area a thorough cleaning. Mask up: wear a mask the entire time, and notify flight attendants if others are not wearing theirs.

And if at all possible, just drive. Even with stops for fuel and bathroom breaks, there’s no question that driving is safer than flying, says Wachter. “It’s shelter in non-place.”