Here’s Where You Should Sit On the Plane When Flying Home For the Holidays

Protect yourself and your family with these essential COVID-era travel tips.

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The holidays are upon us. But with the deadly coronavirus pandemic ramping up toward a second or third wave (depending on where you live), the highways and airports aren’t going to be nearly as crowded as usual. Still, plenty of people will want to visit loved ones and it will require more careful planning than ever before, especially if you fly.

But don’t worry too much, as it turns out flying is not as dangerous as you might think, as long as you pay close attention to the details—like finding the best possible seating to avoid any chance of getting infected with COVID-19 or anything else floating in the air.

As Inside Hook notes, Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health issued a report at the end of October regarding the safety of flying with the pandemic still out of control and found that “through a layered approach to risk mitigation, the scientific evidence shows a low risk of SARS-COV-2 transmission on aircraft.”

Leonard Marcus, co-director of the Aviation Public Health Initiative (APHI), said in the Chan School report that “with their high-performing ventilation systems, the actions that the airlines put in place – including mandatory use of face masks – significantly reduce risks of viral transmission aboard an airplane.”

Digital rendering of coronavirus molecule

But that doesn’t mean you can go maskless down the aisle flinging body fluids everywhere. Inside Hook notes that there’s a strategy to flying and remaining among the uninfected:

Most airlines have imposed indefinite capacity limits (economy cabin won’t be filled past 70%) and some are still leaving middle seats empty entirely. In case the airline isn’t doing the latter, it’s a safe bet to book a seat next to the window. They wouldn’t put a party of two directly next to your party of one. That also gives you an extra bit of distance from the aisle, where flight attendants and those headed to the bathroom are parading by. (Though, experts stress, that brief “brush by” interaction can’t do much.)

If you’re not a window seat person, consider the middle seat of the middle aisle, which also offers some solitude. It’s highly unlikely that another booking passenger would try to nab a seat right next to you. 

This is not 100 percent reassuring information, but it does make the prospect of finally getting out and really going somewhere feel at least a little less intimidating. 

The TSA has a COVID-19 page as well, where they list their own traveling recommendations:

  • Maintain a social distance of six feet wherever possible while at the checkpoint.
  • Wear a face mask throughout your travel experience. You will be asked to adjust your mask for ID verification or if it alarms the security screening equipment. If you don’t have a face mask and you require a pat down, a TSA officer will offer one to you.
  • Remove belts and all personal items from your pockets such as wallets, keys or phones before you enter the checkpoint queue and place them in your carry-on bag. (Does not apply to TSA PreCheck® members.)
  • Remove food items from carry-on bags and place in bin for screening. (Does not apply to TSA PreCheck® members.)
  • Practice good hygiene, such as washing your hands regularly, including directly before and after completing the security screening process. If it is not possible to wash your hands, please use hand sanitizer.
  • Arrive at the airport early to allow adequate time for checking bags, completing security screening and getting to the departure gate. COVID-19 has affected staffing and operations across the airport environment, potentially adding time to your pre-flight experience.

So don’t expect crowded conditions, and as long as everyone is following these safety measures, don’t fret over momentary brushing up against another person or any similar brief contact; the coronavirus isn’t quite that easy to contract. Look for window seats where possible, but a middle seat in the middle aisle is probably fine, too. 

As of November 16, 2020, coronavirus infections are spiking worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and more in the Americas than anywhere else.

If you haven’t booked a flight yet, keep that in mind, and also check out this regularly updated Healthline report, which notes that “the daily average of new COVID-19 cases this past week has reached 134,078, a 72 percent increase from the average 2 weeks ago.”

Mask up. Fly safe. Or maybe don’t fly at all.