Tips on Flying During the Flu Pandemic

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H1N1 has spread around the world through airline travel since it first appeared in Mexico in April 2009. Within two months, the World Health Organization had declared it a pandemic. H1N1 is transmitted by vapor expelled when people speak, sneeze, cough, laugh, eat, exhale and sing. So if you're sick should you fly? Diana Fairechild, aviation environmental consultant and author of Jet Smarter, answers this question to a reader of her web site, Flyana.com.

H1N1 has spread around the world through airline travel since it first appeared in Mexico in April 2009. Within two months, the World Health Organization had declared it a pandemic.

H1N1 is transmitted by vapor expelled when people speak, sneeze, cough, laugh, eat, exhale and sing.

So if you're sick should you fly?

Diana Fairechild, aviation environmental consultant and author of Jet Smarter, answers this question to a reader of her web site (http://www.flyana.com/H1N1.html): "If you feel ill and are deciding to fly or not to fly, ask yourself this question. Are you willing to risk being detained at your destination airport?"

"Travelers who are ill on arrival, and also those seated near the ill passenger, are being detained in quarantine for several weeks," adds Ms. Fairechild, "so when they are released, if they're lucky enough not to be ill, they've entirely missed the event for which they purchased their airplane ticket."

The Air Transport Association, a lobbyist for 26 airlines and 85 other companies that supply the airlines, said on Aug. 31, 2009 that passengers have "no greater risk when traveling by air than going to school or work."

Ms. Fairechild disagrees. "First, at school and work if someone is sneezing or coughing in your bio-space it is likely you can move away. On airplanes, usually you cannot do this. Second, the ceilings at work and school are not as low as airplane ceilings, so with less volume of air on board there's a stronger possibility that a virus molecule could be near your nose when you're ready to inhale."

"I am a realist, not an alarmist," says Ms. Fairechild. "I base my H1N1 advice to passengers on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) documentation on the spreading of influenza, measles, smallpox and TB in airplane cabins. For H1N1, the CDC recommends we maintain a distance of over three feet (1 metre) from others.

"Most first-class airline seats don't have this luxury," says Ms. Fairechild, adding, "In economy, that space is only on rare, empty flights."

"I'm surprised that the CDC does not recommend the most important tip for passengers who need to fly: WEAR A MASK and put a barrier between you and airborne viruses," says Ms. Fairechild. "Wearing a mask cuts down your chances of picking up H1N1 by over 90%." She continues, "I base this statement on an informal survey that I conducted from the podium at a medical conference. In a ballroom full of physicians, I asked for a show of hands if they agreed that passengers could lessen the likelihood of catching a contagious disease by wearing a handkerchief over their noses. Every hand that I could see went up."

Diana Fairechild, who flew over 10 million miles as an international chief flight attendant, offers this further advice to passengers: "If you decide to fly with a handkerchief over your nose, you can wash it with soap and hot water during flight to keep it uncontaminated. Then the damp hankie will provide you with some needed personal humidity in the dry cabin air."

"Don't worry about anyone thinking you're a terrorist when you wear a handkerchief or mask," she adds. "It's always smart to wear a mask when flying and flight attendants know this; they might even be envious because the airlines don't allow them to protect themselves in flight with a mask."

"Many countries today," says Ms. Fairechild, "among them China, Australia, Bulgaria and Turkey, have now installed fever-screening cameras to test all arriving passengers. Maybe TSA could do this PRIOR to departure."

Diana Fairechild can be reached at http://www.Flyana.com. Since the publication of her first aviation book in 1992, she has become a trusted source of tips to improve the quality of life for airline passengers, and her expert testimony in a precedent-setting aviation lawsuit was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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DIANA FAIRECHILD
FlYANA.COM
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