FAQ: Traveling During Pandemic

As COVID-19 continues to create global uncertainty, we provide reliable advice regarding international and domestic travels. This FAQ grows as new questions are being asked by our readers. Hopefully, it will help you to make the right decisions regarding your leisure travel or business trips during the 2020/2021 coronavirus pandemic.

28 October 2021
Maksim Koval

How safe is air travel now?

Numerous studies suggest that flying is a relatively low-risk activity and the chances of contracting coronavirus while flying are very limited. While there are still hazards associated with flying, air travel is safer than most think – the likelihood of COVID-19 is lower than from an office building, supermarket, or commuter train (source).

For starters, airplanes have proper airflow in their cabins – the air volume in the cabin is being completely refreshed every 2-4 minutes thanks to HEPA filters. The air enters and leaves the cabin at approximately the same seat row (or immediately adjacent rows) so it’s very unlikely that you’ll be breathing in air from anyone more than a few rows away.

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How likely are coronavirus transmissions during flights?

Experts from various fields agree that your flight is much safer if the airline requires all passengers and crew members to wear face coverings (which is pretty much a standard these days).

Still, even a relatively short domestic flight carries moderate risks and you should always take precautions to protect yourself during the flight.

Do I need a vaccine passport to travel?

The short answer is no, not at the moment.

As an increasing number of people around the globe get vaccinated, it becomes clear that the travel industry would benefit from a system that allows travelers to easily prove their vaccine status.

Vaccine passports (aka “Covid passports”, or “travel passes”) are designed just for that purpose. They store information about a visitor’s vaccination status, their recent results of COVID-19 tests, or if they already recovered from coronavirus.

There are currently a few versions of this idea:

However, it’s still unclear which (or whether) particular passports will be broadly accepted, and if they will be required for travel. Most likely, every country will make its own decision whether they require proof of Covid vaccination for entry. When vaccine passports become widely available, it may be a good idea to get one, as they may soon become your ticket to a quarantine-free vacation.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news about vaccine passports (and more), and check each country’s reopening status and entry requirements.

Should I get travel insurance that covers COVID-19?

As more countries open for tourism, many destinations that previously didn’t require travel insurance currently do. If you are thinking about booking a holiday now, travel insurance is more important than ever – even if you’ve been vaccinated. From getting Covid when abroad to having to cancel your flight and hotel because of new lockdown restrictions, this pandemic can still wreck your holiday.

The good news is that insurance companies continue to improve their products to meet changing demands. Many insurance policies have adapted to the “new normal” in the travel industry by including coverage for pandemic-related events.

When choosing your new travel insurance, look for coverage for such things as:

  • Medical care for Covid-related illness
  • Medical evacuation
  • Cost of quarantine (if the country imposes it on traveler)
  • Trip cancellation or interruption (by mandatory quarantine, lockdown, travel ban, or new restrictions introduced by region/country)
  • New vaccination requirements

Remember, all insurance policies are tricky. It’s in your best interest to give your travel insurer a call before traveling to find out what they’ll really cover.

Most airlines offer waivers

Since 2020, the vast majority of international airlines have been offering flexible flight tickets – with waived change and cancellation fees. It may serve as an additional ‘safety net’ for your travel, in case your insurance policy doesn’t cover flights.

What regulations apply on board my flight?

In addition to increased sanitizing procedures for their planes, airlines across the globe are also changing their onboard protocols for passengers.

This is what you can expect when flying now, and in the nearest future:

  • Encouraging passengers to check-in before getting to the airport, and to use mobile boarding passes.
  • More optimal procedures for boarding (one of the riskiest parts of flying from a coronavirus perspective) – for example using the Steffen Method, where passengers board in waves starting with people in window seats.
  • Biometric boarding, where scanners match your identity with your face (no need to take out your boarding pass or your mobile phone).
  • No-contact, infrared temperature screenings for all passengers.
  • Incentivising passengers to travel as lightly as possible, with small hand luggage only, ideally (“If you just have one small item, there’s a fast lane at security”). Some governments are reportedly considering banning hand luggage altogether.
  • Limited or suspended food and drink services on short-haul flights (or be sold in sealed, pre-packaged containers).
  • No newspapers or magazines.
  • Limited duty-free sales during the flight.
  • Empty middle seats (as it’s not a viable financial option for the airlines, it may not be common).
  • Cabin crew wearing full personal protective equipment (a disposable gown over their uniforms, mask, goggles, gloves, etc).
  • Mandatory face masks in line with public health guidelines.
  • Restricted access to lavatories (one toilet set aside for use by cabin crew, designated lavatories based on which seat a passenger has).

As the onboard recommendations for passengers become more extensive and detailed, one fact stands out: flying, at least for a while, won’t be too much fun.

How can I protect myself during a flight?

Although there has been no evidence of plane flights causing many super-spreader events, there have been cases of transmission. Even if air travel is considered safe, this fact adds to the importance of adhering to some basic rules for preventing Covid infection when onboard.

Here’s what can you do to minimize the chance of catching Covid on the plane:

  • Always wear a face mask while at the airport and on the plane.
  • Clean your hands often with a hand sanitizer (most airlines allow you to have them in a carry-on bag).
  • Wipe down your area using a disinfectant with 60% alcohol content. Wipe your seat, the seatback in front of you, armrest, seat belt, the tray table, and the buttons for the fan and light overhead.
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How to fly safe during a pandemic
  • Refrain from eating or drinking while on board. But if necessary, be brief. Check if the person next to you has their mask on – if not, politely request to put it on.
  • A window seat is the safest bet. Having a wall on one side automatically reduces your number of close proximity contacts.
  • If possible, choose a seat that is far from the restroom (a spot visited by many passengers).
  • Try to remain seated throughout the entire flight. Sitting down reduces the likelihood of random physical contact and disturbs less the cabin ventilation pattern.
  • Keep your personal overhead vents (aka “gaspers”) on during the flight. It will improve the air quality around you and reduce transmission of exhaled contaminants from the passengers sitting around you.
  • Do not use the airplane’s magazines located in your seat holder. They’ve been probably grabbed by previous passengers’ hands. Bring your own reading material or a tablet.
  • Wait 30 seconds or more before entering the bathroom that someone else has just exited (flushing the toilet may allow some Covid particles to enter the air). Always use a tissue or paper towel to avoid touching surfaces such as door handles and taps with your bare hands.
  • After landing, do not rush for your exit. Wait few minutes for the main crowd to come out to avoid close encounters with potential carriers on the plane’s aisle.

If you do decide to travel, it is important to look at the trip as a whole and consider all factors involved. The journey starts the moment you walk out the door to get into a vehicle that will take you to the airport, through airport procedures, flying itself, all the way to the transport from the airport to your destination.

Do HEPA filters in airplanes effectively shield passengers from the coronavirus?

Yes. HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are used on the planes to keep temperature, humidity, and air cleanliness in the cabin at the correct levels. HEPA filters can also capture 99.97% of airborne small particles (of the size of Covid-19) and the air is renewed every four to six minutes.

The flow of the HEPA-filtered air itself is designed to minimize infection risks. The air in the cabin is collected from outside the aircraft (normally through the engine) and mixed with recycled air from inside. The air blows down on passengers from vents above the seats and escapes through vents under the seats. This reduces the likelihood that viruses can travel throughout a cabin – a passenger from row 10, for example, cannot contaminate someone in row 20.

These sophisticated, hospital-grade HEPA air ventilation systems make physical distancing onboard flights unnecessary – as long as increased cleaning protocols, mask-wearing, and reduced interaction with the crew and other passengers are in place.

Which countries have reopened their borders to tourism?

The world is still in the early stages of reopening to general tourism and travel. To learn about travel restrictions by country, re-opening dates, new visa regulations, COVID-19 testing, quarantine procedures, etc check the Unlocking Asia Pacific Travel – the page is updated frequently with the most recent news.

How to book flights with flexible departure dates?

Check our guide to flexible flying which clears up all the doubts and confusions about flexible plane tickets, date change fees, cancellations and refunds, travel credits/vouchers, etc. The guide is updated often as the new regulations are published by the airlines.

Should I wear a face mask on a plane?

Yes. You’re allowed (and often required) to wear a face mask during a flight.

Many airlines provide face masks and sanitizing wipes to passengers, but it would be better to make sure that you have your own when traveling.

The air in the cabin is renewed every four to six minutes as most commercial flights are using planes equipped with HEPA filtration systems. Still, if a person seated within 2 rows around you has COVID-19, there is a chance he would spread coronavirus particles towards you. A face mask will prevent you to catch the disease in such cases.

Also, if you are contagious but unaware, wearing a mask will prevent you from spreading the virus to your fellow passengers.

Please note: plastic face shields may be used in addition to a mask but on most airlines they are not approved mask replacements.

What is a travel bubble?

Travel bubble (also: air bridge, corona corridor, green zone) is a bilateral arrangement between countries to ease border restrictions and allow quarantine-free travel during the coronavirus outbreak. The confidence in each other’s safeguards allows for simplified procedures for travelers, including one-time-only tests and health checks. One of the first travel bubbles was established between Australia and New Zealand.

In times of pandemic international travel typically requires two weeks of quarantine or self-isolation – to see if any COVID-19 symptoms appear. While it may work for people returning home or with plans of long-term staying at a destination, 14 days of isolation is not acceptable for most travelers and it basically kills the tourism at the destination.

Travel bridges seem to be the future of travel. They provide hope for a resumption of travel in the post-pandemic world, allowing international commerce and tourism to return. The result though could be also new divisions along epidemiological lines, with the countries where the coronavirus has not been fully contained, left behind.

Should I bring food to the airport and on flight?

As onboard meals are often limited these days, airlines are encouraging travelers to bring food with them. No two airlines have an identical food option during the pandemic. Some airlines still offer complimentary meals, others just pass you a snack bag while some have completely suspended food services.

You should check this with your airlines first, but as a general rule passengers are now welcome to bring food on flights. A little snack and water bottle are a minimum.

We highly recommend putting all carry-on food items into a clear plastic bag for X-ray screening. It not only helps protect food from contamination but also reduces the need for an airport agent to scour through your belongings.

Where can I find the latest news related to travel and COVID-19?

You may visit and bookmark the Travel During Pandemic page for the daily portion of news, articles, and videos related to COVID-19 and travel. Or just sign up for Tiket2 Newsletter that provides weekly updates on pandemic and post-pandemic travel. The newsletter is written and edited personally by Maksim Koval, our editorial director.

Maksim K, contributor

Maksim Koval

Maksim is an industry expert and digital editor at Tiket2. He is also a frequent flyer, travel writer, photographer, and the truest evangelist of the company.