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Consumer Reports: Tips on safe holiday travel amid the pandemic

Posted at 9:01 AM, Nov 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-16 10:03:10-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF/CONSUMER REPORTS) — The holidays are just around the corner, and typically they're one of the busiest travel seasons of the year. This year obviously will be different. If you are going to travel, you'll want to do it safely.

Of course, public health experts say staying home is the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19, but if you absolutely must fly, Consumer Reports has some tips to help keep you safe at 35,000 feet.

Although it’s likely more people will stay put this year than what’s expected for a typical holiday season, if you do plan on flying during November and December, there’s always the possibility of a jam-packed flight.

“Knowing how the airlines operate, particularly this year where it’s been so terrible for them financially, our concern is that they’re going to be maximizing profits by parking aircrafts and not using as many crews. So, flights could be fuller,” said Bill McGee, Consumer Reports Aviation Advisor.

The CDC and airlines maintain that most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. But Consumer Reports remains concerned about the lack of social distancing and mask policies onboard airplanes.

As for airports, McGee says, “There are a lot of choke points, particularly in smaller and older airports, where social distancing becomes very difficult.”

Some airports are responding to those challenges by implementing new technologies, like automatic electronic access points, also known as E-Gates, that help reduce points of human contact and ease congestion bottlenecks.

CR says there are even more ways to keep you and your family safe, and some of those start before you book.Contact the airline and check if they guarantee empty middle seats and how strictly it enforces mask-wearing. Then check again right before you fly in case a change has been made. Also, see if you can book a flight for earlier in the day. CR says that’s when airplanes are the cleanest.

“If you’re on a 6:30 am flight you’re probably going to get on a plane that just received a heavy cleaning,” McGee added.

If all of that still sounds too risky or too much of a hassle, perhaps avoid it altogether and opt for a virtual holiday celebration instead.

Consumer Reports says if you are making travel plans for the holidays, look for flexible bookings in case you need to make a last-minute cancellation. Try to avoid restrictive airfares that don't allow you to make changes or non-refundable rates. If you're booking hotel rooms, look for those that offer "free cancellations" or "reserve now, pay later."

And, of course, don't forget your mask when you're packing.