Dear American, Did Flying with You Seriously Endanger My Life?

(Because you seem to be prioritising profits over public health.)

Photo by Paul Bienek on Unsplash

American Airlines, which — during a global pandemic which we still don’t yet have a vaccine for — insists on packing flights as full as possible.
To the American pilot who walked past me after security, coffee in hand, with his mask resting below his lower lip.
To Philadelphia airport, which urges travellers to practice social distancing over the loudspeakers but where security officials cram people into queues like cattle going through a dipping pen (I overheard one saying: “Don’t worry about social distancing — you’re about to board a flight!”).
To the passenger who, when on board, took about 10 agonising minutes to eat a gigantic salad on the other side of the aisle (and later pulled down his buff so he could cough into the cabin).
To the many travellers milling about US airports and planes who refuse to cover their noses — and not just their mouths.
To the man who blew his nose in Arrivals.
To the tout who, mask resting on his chin, came close to ask if I wanted a taxi.
To the man waiting for his Uber who spat a great glob into the gutter.

To all of you:

What. The. Actual. F*ck?!

According to The Atlantic:

The United States now reports nearly 60,000 new cases every day, numbers previously seen only during the peak in July and early August. Since the middle of September, the number of new cases diagnosed each day has swelled by 73 percent. The number of Americans hospitalized has increased by at least 40 percent.

I can’t help wondering about the role that reckless airlines — and their irresponsible staff and passengers — are playing in the continued spread of the disease.

While a recent study suggests that mask-wearing combined with an aircraft’s air filtering capabilities helps to reduce the risk of transmission significantly, the spectre of planes packed to capacity (especially ones that are three hours or longer — as mine were this week) remains hugely concerning. That’s because full flights not only make social distancing impossible on board — it’s also extremely difficult to do so while waiting at the gate to board, where seating areas and queues are often cramped.

I’d be a lot less worried if everyone was wearing a mask covering both nose and mouth the whole time — but people are removing them to eat and drink, while an alarming number of others who are wearing face coverings are doing so incorrectly.

those mulling over whether or not to fly in the coming months, a few suggestions (with the caveat that I am a journalist, not a public health specialist):

  • Think carefully about the airline you fly with: don’t choose one which crams planes to capacity. In spite of the generous bailouts they’ve received from the federal government, some airlines put profitability way ahead of public health. According to Forbes, airlines which currently block middle seats (to allow for a greater degree of social distancing) include Delta, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, Southwest and Hawaiian
  • Choose short flights, ideally point-to-point and not requiring a layover
  • If you have the money or points to upgrade to a roomier cabin, do so!
  • Eat before and not during your flight (and as far away from other people as possible)
  • If you fit within a risk demographic at all and/or your travel is not essential then it is strongly worth considering to wait for a vaccine before your next flight

For science-based travel advice for the holidays read Elemental’s piece on the subject or check out the Medium Coronavirus Blog.

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