Is It Safe To Fly During Coronavirus?
To prevent spread of the coronavirus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged social-distancing measures. But airplanes and airports are not designed for maintaining the recommended six feet of space between people, and location-tracking data has shown the virus spreading along major air traffic routes. In an interview with, Jacobson discussed the risks of air travel during the pandemic and what preventive measures airports and passengers can take.
What kinds of health screening measures, if any, have been put into place in U.S. airports? Given the long asymptomatic incubation time of COVID-19, are these measures helpful?
The newly implemented Transportation Security Administration procedures are the best that can be offered under highly constrained conditions. Passengers are all permitted to wear their face masks through checkpoints, provided they do not obscure their identity.
COVID-19 is challenging to screen for, given its long incubation and the period in which asymptomatic people are contagious.
Airport security areas aren’t designed for social distancing. How can security concerns be balanced with public health concerns?
Airport security checkpoints are a breeding ground for coronavirus transmission. This creates a destructive cycle of transmission between TSA screeners and passengers.
However, the TSA should not compromise security standards and protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. Limiting air travel only to passengers who are PreCheck qualified is an ideal compromise. PreCheck lanes offer faster passenger screening, fewer TSA personnel and fewer passenger touch points.
What kinds of measures could airports undertake to reduce health risks to passengers as well as TSA officers and other staff?
First, as new rapid-response tests for COVID-19 become available, all TSA screening officers should be tested every few days. This should be implemented immediately. Screening officers come into direct contact with travelers, many of whom have been in high risk areas like New York City. This percentage is consistent with the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the area relative to confirmed cases in other major urban areas.
The tight configuration at airport security checkpoints creates a fertile center for passenger-to-passenger transmission. The best way to reduce the health risk to TSA officers and passengers is to spread out screening across as many checkpoint lanes as possible, effectively reducing the number of travelling passengers being screened per hour and limiting the touch between the screening agents and passengers. Limiting travel only to PreCheck passengers offers another means to achieve this.
What kinds of measures can someone who has an essential trip coming up, they take to limit their exposure at the airport or on the airplane?
Apply the six-foot rule as much as possible. Use online check-in to obtain boarding passes. Stand six feet back from other passengers when entering and passing through the security checkpoint lanes. Wash your hands both before and after passing through the security checkpoints. Because of the lighter demand in air travel, the spacing on airplanes is becoming easier.