To help you make an informed decision about the safety and wellbeing of your travellers during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak we have prepared the following information. It is your responsibility to ensure your travellers comply with any government travel restrictions.
When it comes to spreading disease, the aviation industry gets a bad rap. It’s true that increased global air travel over the past decade means viruses spread more quickly, but planes themselves aren’t to blame. Anywhere that large groups gather and mix are equally susceptible, but COVID-19 travel bans have put the spotlight on air travel.
So why all the fuss? Because COVID-19 is a totally new virus no one has any immunity to it yet and so this unknown element is fuelling myths, fake news and general unease. When WHO declared a public health emergency it sounded dire, but this was done to give the organisation access to extra funds to support vulnerable countries and a ‘pandemic’ simply means the virus has spread to a number of other countries.
Focusing on air travel however, as with any flu season, there are precautions you can take to minimse your risk of becoming unwell.
Wash hands regularly
If soap and water are not available to clean your hands, use a hand sanitiser which is at least 60% alcohol. Experts agree that good old-fashioned hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (which is the time it takes to sing ’Happy Birthday’ to yourself twice) is the best defence and caution that constant use of hand sanitiser can irritate your skin.
Practice good hygiene
Respiratory diseases like COVID-19 spread through droplets of saliva or mucus, usually when people cough or sneeze, then others come in contact with the droplets. So avoid touching your own eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, as viruses most frequently enter the body through these routes.
If you’re unwell, don’t travel
COVID-19 appears to have an incubation period of at least 14 days, unlike regular flu which is 2 days. An increasing number of international airports are also conducting temperature checks for arriving, departing and transiting passengers, so there’s the chance that you could be denied boarding for having a fever unrelated to COVID-19. So protect yourself, and other travellers, by not flying when you’re sick.
Cover your mouth and nose when you cough, sneeze into your elbow and wear a facemask to protect your fellow travellers. If you begin to feel sick while at work, go home as soon as possible.
While many airlines have announced an extra plane cleaning, there is no guarantee that every surface will get the full treatment. So carry antibacterial wipes to clean your seat armrest, tray table, seat-back pocket, air vent, seat touch screen, headrest and window blind. The same advice is sensible for other items frequently used by travellers, including hotel television remote controls and clean your hands after travelling on shuttles, taxis, holding handrails and using elevators.
Almost all modern aircraft have HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arrester) filters that will filter 99.999% of dust particles and airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria, ensuring the highest possible quality of cabin air. However infection specialists suggest a window seat, away from passenger foot traffic, could offer you a bit more protection.
If your travel policy allows, now is a good time to upgrade to business or first class travel. It will give you a small buffer of extra personal space and potentially less contact with other passengers
Stay clear of people with a cough or cold
Experts define exposure as being within 6 feet of an infected person for 10 minutes or more. On aircraft, the World Health Organisation defines contact with an infected person as being seated within two rows of one another. But also remember that passengers walk around, go to the bathroom and touch many surfaces. You can also try to ask to be moved away from a sick person.
Counteract low humidity
The low humidity in aircraft cabins dries out the mucous membranes of your eyes, nose and mouth, making them less effective in blocking out viruses. For this reason, some frequent flyers swear by nasal sprays to moisturise and clean out the nose. Also drink more water to compensate for the cabin dryness. However, new generation long haul aircraft such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner feature technology that allows for higher humidity levels.
Have vaccinations up-to-date
While there is no vaccine for COVID-19, having all other essential vaccinations up-to-date will help you stay healthy and prevent your immune system from being compromised. This includes having the 2020 flu vaccine, which is due to be available in Australia from the end of March.
Stay up-to-date with travel advice
If travelling internationally the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller agency regularly posts announcements, via their website, Facebook and Twitter, regarding the travel status of countries impacted by COVID-19 and those imposing entry restrictions. This is a great resource and one you should check daily as the situation is changing quickly.
Travellers who bought travel insurance before COVID-19 became a ‘known event’ may be covered for medical expenses and cancellations. Most travel insurance companies tend to exclude cover for pandemics and epidemics, if you read the fine print. Insurance policies vary greatly, so it’s best to contact the insurance company directly or enquire via your travel manager.
Use your Travel Manager
At times like this, having a dedicated travel manager and a travel management company with a genuine 24/7 emergency hotline (not just an answering service) is priceless. Should you be quarantined or denied entry to a country your Stage and Screen travel or account manager can help with accommodation, flight changes, cancellations and alternative routing. Also download your travel company’s mobile app to stay up-to-date with travel alerts and changing conditions.