How to fly safely right now?

post by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2020-03-03T19:35:47.434Z · LW · GW · 20 comments

This is a question post.

I have friends who need to fly to different countries in the next days and weeks, and I'd like to help them avoid getting the virus. Please help me figure out how to avoid catching it on the planes.

I'll leave my current thoughts in an answer to this question.


answer by Ben Pace · 2020-03-03T19:47:05.423Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think flight attendants (who cycle through flights to lots of countries) will be the main vectors, and you should avoid touching them or things that they touch.

Things to bring:

  • Face mask
  • Lysol wipes for tray table, armrests, etc
  • Mini hand-sanitizer to use after touching things
    • Unclear how to get something small enough to go through security. Perhaps it can be bought in the airport though?
  • Anti-nausea pills to avoid throwing up
  • Water bottle

Things to do:

  • Do pay for a window seat to avoid touching everyone as they walk past you.
  • Do (if you can afford it) pay for an upgraded seat where you're not stuffed in with people.
  • Don't touch anyone on the plane.
  • Don't accept anything from the flight attendants.
  • Don't touch your face. (Men should shave facial hair to help with that.)
  • Don't eat anything that they give you on the plane, and maybe avoid eating at all.
  • Don't get out your laptop or basically anything else you own that you're not happy to throw away straight afterwards e.g. buy cheap headphones to listen to on the flight and then throw them out, cover your phone in copper for the flight, etc.

As soon as you arrive at your destination wash the clothes you're wearing and take a shower.

(People have recommended wearing goggles. I am a bit concerned about freaking out the airline staff and being kicked off the plane for looking like you have a disease, but maybe a sleep mask can do the work here.)

comment by Raemon · 2020-03-03T22:10:39.441Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're avoiding taking things from flight attendants make sure to bring enough food.

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2020-03-03T22:13:48.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. I was initially considering recommending just-not-eating for the flight, but my friend is going to be travelling for 20 hours, and if you're not used to fasting I think you start to feel panicked and make dumb decisions after not eating for so long. So will probably pack a bunch of protein bars and ensure hand-washing before and after eating.

comment by Howie Lempel (howie-lempel) · 2020-03-03T20:56:03.591Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was able to buy hand sanitizer after going through security at JFK on Sunday but I wouldn't count on that. Fwiw, Purell bottles small enough to take through security seem pretty common.

comment by benwr · 2020-03-03T21:19:02.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another random thought: wearing gloves is probably not a great idea in the default case, but if you wear gloves and then replace them, it seems like that's probably about as good as washing your hands or using hand sanitizer (and might be easier to do often when sitting in your seat on the plane; it might also dry out your hands less)

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-03-03T20:16:59.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Don't touch your face. (Men should shave facial hair to help with that.)

When it comes to protecting from STD's genital hair has a slight protective effect. I could imagine that facial hair also has a slight protective effect.

Are there any studies on the question of whether men who have facial hair are more likely to get influenza or other coronaviruses?

Replies from: mvolz
comment by Marielle Volz (mvolz) · 2020-03-04T11:51:51.007Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pubic hair moderately protects only against those STDs which infect skin cells and are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact: herpes, HPV, molluscum contagiosum.

Respiratory viruses do not infect skin cells and people aren't rubbing their faces together, so there's no plausible method of action here.

comment by benwr · 2020-03-03T21:09:10.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can buy bottles for arbitrary gels, and then put hand sanitizer in those bottles.

comment by benwr · 2020-03-03T21:14:38.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another thing you might want to bring: swimming or safety goggles. Iiuc, it's possible for viruses to spread via your conjunctivae (although this is probably a much smaller effect than transmission via nose or mouth).

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2020-03-04T00:26:08.403Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Unclear how to get something small enough to go through security. Perhaps it can be bought in the airport though?

Liquids that are in containers that are 100ml (3.4 ounces) or less are allowed past security checkpoints in Europe and North America, so look for a hand-sanitizer bottle that meets that criterion. Here is some evidence for this claim.

comment by benwr · 2020-03-03T21:11:18.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Re facial hair: it's recommended not to have facial hair when wearing a face mask, because it makes the seal weaker. Do you think the protective effect is larger than that effect?

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2020-03-03T21:51:12.512Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I plan to shave my beard tomorrow in order to help with wearing masks and to stop touching it. If ChristianKl or someone can show evidence that it reduces risk of STDs in sex and make an argument that this situation is similar and substantive, I will reconsider, but I expect that touching your face is much more important than having protection on it.

Replies from: benwr
comment by benwr · 2020-03-03T22:01:50.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, whoops, I somehow misread your original post ("shave" was edited to "have" in my brain)

answer by Adam Scholl · 2020-03-07T12:38:46.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This study suggests some airplane seats expose passengers to significantly more infection risk than others. I'm confused by the writing, but my understanding is that window seats are best.

I would also guess, though I can't tell if the paper is suggesting this, that you're at less risk if you don't use the bathroom, don't have row-mates, and sit where people are least likely to pass you to go to the bathroom. If true, one could potentially reduce risk significantly by buying e.g. three seats next to each other halfway between two bathrooms, limiting water intake before the flight and sitting near the window.

answer by Martha Jean · 2020-03-04T17:03:38.793Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The CDC does not recommend face masks for people who are not currently sick. The reason it twofold - one is that unless you have fit the mask to your face properly, which is bloody difficult to do and even harder to maintain, it just doesn't work. Any tiny gap in the seal sucks air into your breathing space. Two is that even if you can fit it correctly, you have just spent five minutes touching your face, which ups your risk of infecting yourself.

The Lysol wipes is a great idea. Hand sanitizer is only good for so much - they are anti-bacterial and the thing we are fighting now is a virus. If it helps you remember to wash your hands at the earliest possible time, sure.

I hadn't thought about shower immediately, but that's a great idea.

comment by jimrandomh · 2020-03-04T17:01:01.844Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The CDC's recommendation against face masks is a bald-faced lie, intended to prevent individuals from buying them and conserve supplies for health care workers. Wearing a mask incorrectly makes it less effective, but does not reduce effectiveness to zero; it seems obvious to me that, if masks were plentiful, they would be mandatory (as they were in 1918) rather than discouraged.

Replies from: pktechgirl
comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2020-03-04T18:28:22.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm *extremely* sympathetic to the position that the CDC is untrustworthy and have my own example, but it strikes me so extremely consequential that it would benefit from a more complete justification in a top level post. I'd be happy to collaborate on writing and/or research if that would lower the barrier to entry.

comment by jmh · 2020-03-04T15:35:24.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is touching you face a problem or is the problem touching the places on your face that allow the entry for the virus? If just touching my cheek or jaw line is a problem then why isn't the virus on my hand not also a direct problem?

Replies from: EGI
comment by EGI · 2020-03-05T21:30:10.430Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Touching your jaw or cheek should be no direct problem for you since you need to get the virus into your airways to get infected. It may be a problem for others since you may have lots of virus particles on your jaw / cheek form sneezing. Also getting stuff from your jaw or cheek into your mouth nose or eyes is more likely than from your hands.

comment by Michael Chen (michael-chen) · 2020-03-05T04:11:23.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

>60% alcohol hand sanitizer kills many viruses, including the coronavirus. It is not that effective against the norovirus, however.


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