Don't Bring This on a Plane With You Amid Omicron, Experts Warn
The latest variant makes it too risky to fly with these right now.
After the pandemic made it more difficult than ever to travel home for the holidays last year, 2021 is seeing a resurgence of fliers in a major way. More than 2 million passengers were screened at airports on Dec. 16, 17, and 18, nearly doubling the numbers seen on the same dates in 2020, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Unfortunately, the rise in travelers is also being met by a rise in COVID infections as the latest highly transmissible variant continues to spread quickly across the U.S. As a result, some travel experts are warning that there's one thing you shouldn't bring on to a plane with you due to the recent rise of Omicron.
Even though protective measures such as wearing a mask and being vaccinated against COVID-19 can go a long way to lower some of the risks associated with air travel, the contagious nature of the latest version of the virus is making it difficult to plan safe reunions once again. As a result, some experts are warning that this may not be the season to bring young children on planes, especially those under the age of two who can't wear face masks and under the age of five who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated. In fact, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines urge that all people should "delay travel until you are fully vaccinated."
According to experts, planning to self-isolate and test days before traveling can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus to those who are more vulnerable such as older relatives and friends. But unless you can build in a few extra days between your arrival and your reunion with those you're visiting, young children could prove to be a risk some hosts aren't willing to take.
"I think there really is a risk-benefit calculation that has to be made—and I think that's going to be an individual, and family, choice," said David Dowdy, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, told Vox. "Make sure that everyone who is going to be at a given gathering feels comfortable with a small (and therefore unvaccinated) child being there. The one thing you don't want to do is make others in your family uncomfortable."
Still, some experts argue that while the risks may feel overwhelming, flying itself may not be where the chance of transmission is the highest. "I would consider it a low risk because of filtration systems and ventilation, as well as masks are required—not only that, they're enforced," Katelyn K. Jetelina, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, told The New York Times.
If your child is older than 2, Jetelina also recommends purchasing the right kind of mask that will be more likely to protect them during the trip. Even though N95 masks may be the most sought-after option for adults, she suggests upgrading to KN95 masks that are designed for kids since N95s aren't made in smaller sizes that will comfortably fit their faces.
For the flight, others suggest abandoning your rules about screentime to ensure your younger children stay entertained and less fidgety while you're in the air. "I would even suggest to passengers to eat a good, healthy meal before your flight, so you don't have to take off your mask to eat on the plane," one flight attendant told Popsugar. "Also, washing your hands is super important, and you should keep hand sanitizer with you and put it on before and after you eat or drink on the plane."