Air travel during the holidays last year was, of course, significantly constrained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year is shaping up to be dramatically different. As COVID-19 vaccination rates rise, travel restrictions continue to be loosened, and people increasingly plan to travel so they can see friends and family.
Delta Airlines, for example, forecasts 5.6 million passengers will take its flights over the Thanksgiving period of November 19–30. While that number will still be down from pre-pandemic travel numbers, it is still nearly three times as many travelers as last year during the same period. As is usually the case, the Sunday after Thanksgiving will be the busiest travel day of the period.
That surge in travelers means airports will be busy and flights will be full. Consequently, the situation may be particularly stressful for travelers who worry about their health as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“The holidays can be a stressful time for many, but traveling doesn’t have to be,” explains Dr. Henry Ting, Delta’s chief health officer. “The best thing we can do — like with most things in life we find stressful — is to prepare ahead of time and anticipate challenges so we take as much control over our experience as possible. This also allows us the mental space to give grace to those around us.”
Dr. Ting has compiled a list of tips that can help put travelers’ minds at ease. Keep reading to see what Dr. Ting wants you to know about flying over the holidays.
Flying Has Low Risk
First of all, many potential travelers are concerned about contracting COVID-19 while on a flight. Numerous studies, however, have shown that there is a low risk of COVID-19 transmission on an aircraft, Dr. Ting explains. For example, a peer-reviewed study by the Mayo Clinic shows that the risk of exposure to COVID-19 while traveling after all passengers test negative 72 hours in advance of the flight is less than 0.1 percent.
The study, conducted by the Mayo Clinic and the Georgia Department of Health, is based on data from Delta Air Lines. It examined customer data on Delta’s COVID-tested flight corridors between John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Fiumicino International Airport in Italy.
“The study shows that there are so many other activities you could do, like going to the grocery store, church, or a restaurant, where your risk of infection is way higher than flying,” Dr. Ting said in an article on The Hill.
You can learn more about the study here.
Dr. Ting’s Travel Tips
Between the expected high number of travelers and the ongoing pandemic, air travel can be stressful. With that in mind, Dr. Ting offers these tips to make your air travel a little easier.
First, plan to arrive at least 2 hours before domestic flights. If your flight is international, plan to arrive 3 hours before departure.
Be sure to have all of your necessary IDs and documentation. If you’ll be flying on a Delta flight, be sure to use Delta’s Fly Ready tool and the Fly Delta app, Dr. Ting notes.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires everyone to wear a mask while in airports and aboard planes through January 18, 2022. Be sure to follow this rule.
Next, rapid COVID-19 tests are readily available, so you should plan accordingly, Dr. Ting notes. “Consider testing yourself before travel and upon arrival, and keep a few extra tests in your luggage in case you are exposed or experience symptoms,” he urges.
It’s easy to lose a mask and they sometimes can become soiled. Be sure to pack extra masks and hand sanitizer in your luggage.
Finally, Dr. Ting reminds everyone that if you feel sick, you should stay home. Again, if you are flying Delta, keep in mind that the airline allows travelers to change or cancel trips directly on Delta’s website or via the Fly Delta app through 2021 without paying a change fee.
Traveling During The Winter Holidays
Delta forecasts a high number of passengers during the winter holidays as well. Indeed, the airline expects 8.7–9 million passengers for the travel period of December 17–January 3. That’s an average of 490,000 per day. Peak numbers, around Christmas for example, could exceed 530,000 travelers per day.
If you’ll be flying over the winter holidays, Dr. Ting notes that all of his advice should still be followed.