What You Need to Know Before Flying in 2021

Toy plane with a world map, passports, and tickets.

Now that people are starting to get comfortable with the idea of traveling again, here's what you need to know before flying in 2021. (Image: Ivan Kruk via Dreamstime)

Since the world spiraled into a global health crisis owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling has become a farfetched dream for many. The complications around traveling only increased as the threat of contracting the coronavirus did. Now that we have access to a vaccine, people are starting to get comfortable with the idea of traveling again, particularly flying.

But before you book your trip to the leisure island of your choice, or just to visit your loved ones after the crazy hiatus, you might want to consider some expert opinions about flying. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still warn about the increased risk of contracting the disease, several experts suggest that effectively following safety protocols can mitigate the risk.

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Dr. Amesh Adalja, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said: “People often think of planes as major vectors for transmission, but overall, we have not seen much data on transmission on a plane, except for people that are in the immediate vicinity of that person. We’ve not heard about major outbreaks on airplanes.” (Today)

Safety protocols for flying include getting quarantined and tested before and after the flight to maintain the complete safety of the traveler and co-passengers. Flying is certainly not the same as it used to be, and the best time to familiarize yourself with the changes is before your next flight.

Flying is certainly not the same as it used to be, and the best time to familiarize yourself with the changes is before your next flight.
Flying is certainly not the same as it used to be, and the best time to familiarize yourself with the changes is before your next flight. (Image: Bignai via Dreamstime)

4 things you need to know before you fly in 2021

1. Paying more for perks

Since the beginning of this year, flights have been taking passengers on board at full capacity. Popular airlines like Southwest, American, Hawaiian, Frontier, United, Spirit, and JetBlue have removed the seating restrictions that were in effect since the pandemic was declared, so don’t expect the middle seat to be empty to accommodate social distancing.

Everyone is familiar with Southwest Airlines’ policy of not issuing seat assignments, but you may be surprised to find out that airlines like American, Delta, and United have followed suit. You will need to pay extra in order to be guaranteed a seat next to your family or traveling companions, something to keep in mind if traveling with children who may need assistance with their masks while they are flying.

If you feel more comfortable with an empty middle seat, a good strategy is to purchase a seat assignment in a row with extra legroom. These premium seats are usually not assigned for free unless absolutely necessary, so by paying for one, you improve your chances of getting a little more distance between you and the other passengers. 

2. Pack an extra mask

President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January requiring people to wear masks when flying. This applies to everyone, whether or not they are from a state or municipality that is no longer requiring the wearing of masks. The only time you can remove the mask during the flight is when you are eating. Ignoring this rule is going to be costly. You could face a fine of US$250 to US$1,500 or be banned from flying altogether.

Airline passenger is holding a muffin and cup with water during the flight.
The only time you can remove your mask when flying is if you are eating. (Image: Jaromír Chalabala via Dreamstime)

Since you’ll be wearing a mask for the entire flight, you may want to bring a few made from different fabrics and try switching between them to stay more comfortable. Also, remember that if you lose your mask while going through the airport, you won’t be allowed to board the plane, so make sure to have a spare.

3. Bring sanitizer

The airlines now have cleaning crews who come on board every time a plane lands in order to sanitize everything, but you may want to bring your own sanitizing wipes for peace of mind. You can wipe down the tray table before using it to eat or hold your laptop. Sticking a few paper towels into your carry-on will ensure you’re ready for anything and won’t have to wait to get something extra from a flight attendant. Bringing along a small bottle of hand sanitizer is a good idea, too.

4. Bring food with you

For the time being, most airlines are not providing meals on their flights. Even for first-class passengers, the offering may be limited to little more than a cheese plate. You can expect to be served snacks and beverages, but if you want more than that, you’ll have to bring it with you.

If you do bring your own food, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends that you pack everything in a clear bag. And remember, any liquids are subject to the 3-1-1 rule, that is, they must be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less (“3”) with all liquid containers placed in one clear quart-sized plastic bag (“1”), and each passenger can only have one such bag (“1”).

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