Top health experts weigh in on the question troubling travelers around the U.S.

By Andrea Romano
June 15, 2020
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Many people have been stuck inside since March during the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t altered their desire to travel. With so many places beginning to reopen, you might be wondering how you can swing a getaway safely while still social distancing.

In short, planning your summer vacation is going to look very different this year.

According to CNN, with the number of passengers going through security checkpoints at U.S. airports starting to rise again, many people might be asking is it safer to drive or fly?

While it may seem like doing a road trip (especially with people you’ve already been locked down with for three months) will inherently keep you safe of exposing yourself to the virus, it actually all comes down to what you do while you’re traveling.

“The risks of travel are usually more dependent on the personal choices of the traveler rather than the means of transport,” said Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease specialist at Columbia University Medical Center. But when you drive, you can choose where you go and who you interact with — making hygiene way easier to manage.

“You can control your environment regarding the interaction with other people to a much greater extent than you can traveling on an airliner,” said Dr. William Schaffner, infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, to CNN. 

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Air travel presents its own risk, especially considering going through crowded airports and, of course, being on a plane for several hours with people who may or may not be as cautious. “Whatever time you spend on the plane, you're in a very enclosed environment with other people, all of whom may not be wearing masks,” Shaffner added to CNN. 

That’s not to say that air travel is out of the picture. Whether you fly or drive, observing certain precautions will help you stay healthy regardless of how you get to your destination.

If you are planning to travel, according to CNN, it’s important to wear a mask when you’re around other people, even if you’re popping into a gas station or ordering from a drive through on your road trip. Limiting interactions with people and maintaining six feet of distance whenever you can is highly recommended.

Schaffner also suggested that people on airplanes should try to refrain from eating and drinking while in flight, as long as you don’t get dehydrated in the process. “When people eat on planes, they tend to touch their masks, uncover their nose and mouth and potentially expose themselves and others,” Schaffner told CNN. 

In addition, air travelers should use check-in apps, pack their own food, and frequently wash or sanitize hands after touching surfaces, CNN reported.

Any type of travel during a pandemic is going to be inherently risky, so it’s important to always take precautions and understand what hazards might happen along the way regardless of your mode of transportation.