What’s the opposite of social distancing during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic? How about this:

Yeah, that photo may not be the most re-assuring thing to see if you are wondering how safe it is to fly right now or in the near future.

The photo was apparently from a Newark, NJ, to San Francisco, CA, flight. Unless this was a Salvador Dalí-esque distorted surrealism picture, those people do not look at least six feet apart from each other. Assuming that Denzel Washington is six feet tall, you couldn’t quite fit a horizontal Denzel between the seats. And, as I have indicated before for Forbes, social distancing means staying at least one Denzel from other people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A fairly packed flight doesn’t quite offer you that possibility, because sitting on the wing is not an option and there’s only so much time that you can spend on the toilet.

Guess what else? Ethan Weiss, MD, who tweeted the photo, is a cardiologist and an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. He like others on the flight was returning from New York City after spending time volunteering to take care of patients infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to an ABC7 news report. In a follow-up tweet, Weiss highlighted a previous United Airlines announcement that “we’re automatically blocking middle seats to give you enough space on board”:

Blocking middle seats with what? Another person?

As the ABC7 news report relayed, United subsequently issued the following statement:

“We’ve overhauled our cleaning and safety procedures and implemented a new boarding and deplaning process to promote social distancing. Our flight to San Francisco had an additional 25 medical professionals on board who were flying for free to volunteer their time in New York – we’ve provided complimentary flights for more than 1,000 doctors and nurses in the past few weeks alone – and all passengers and employees were asked to wear face coverings, consistent with our new policy. Last month, we began limiting advanced seat selection for adjacent seats in all cabins, including middle seats where available and alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs. Though we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated next to an unoccupied seat, based on historically low travel demand and the implementation of our various social distancing measures that is the likely outcome.”

Banking on a “likely outcome” may be OK if you are playing craps. But when just a single extended exposure to the virus can get you infected, a “likely outcome” that you’ll be able to stay apart from others may not be enough. How would you feel if someone told you that it is a likely outcome that an anvil won’t fall on your head. With social distancing currently being the only option to prevent infection, social distancing should be something that should be assured, because the first three letters of “assured” is what could potentially be on the line for you. Imagine walking into an airplane expecting to have the middle seat free, only to find that you’re squeezed next to someone else. That could lead to another type of craps.

All of this should reinforce the recommendation that you shouldn’t fly right now unless you really, really have to do so. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website“recommends you stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing,” and “avoid all nonessential international travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Although the website doesn’t specifically say “don’t fly,” for most people, “stay home” and “fly in an airplane” are mutually exclusive, unless you happen to have a flying house. So, postpone that “just for the heck of it” world tour or that “visit the home towns of all the original One Direction members” trip.

If you must fly, there are ways to minimize your risk besides buying your own plane. As I have written before for Forbes, the circulating air does go through filters, which can reduce the risk of infection. So, holding your breath throughout the flight is not necessary or a good idea in general.

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The bigger concern though would be potentially contaminated objects like trays, seat belts, bathroom sinks, and those suspiciously sticky airline magazines when they are not properly disinfected. Touching these and then touching your enormous face without first washing your hands could get you infected.

The other even bigger concern are the other passengers on the plane. If any of them is infected and contagious, not being able to keep your distance from him or her could put you at risk.

Therefore, if you can’t not fly, to use a double negative, make sure that the airline and flight that you take is aggressively disinfecting the cabin between flights. In this case, aggressively doesn’t mean making “grrrrrr” noises and shaking your fists while cleaning. It means doing it thoroughly and frequently with the right cleaners. Check their boarding and seating policies. Boarding procedures should keep people at least one Denzel apart at all times. Look for a guarantee that you won’t be seated right next to someone else and what your options may be if you find out that this guarantee is not really being honored.

airport traveller

Again, it’s not a good idea to fly right now. How about in the near future? Wondering when you can start flying again?

Don’t hold your breath just yet. This could make you pass out, because after all you do need oxygen. As long as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is still actively circulating somewhere near either your originating location or your destination, air travel is not a good idea as long as you can avoid it.

Source: Forbes