(WJAR) — More than a million passengers were screened at airports nationwide this month, for the first time since the pandemic began. But with the holidays approaching, many people still wonder: is it safe to get on a plane?
"People are getting comfortable. Our load factors here at Providence are actually quite high. We are having flights go out pretty much full every day,” Lauren Moscato, General Manager for United Airlines at T.F. Green Airport, told NBC 10.
United gave NBC 10 a behind-the-scenes look at its COVID-19 cleaning process at T.F. Green, including disinfecting seats, tray tables and armrests with an electrostatic sprayer, both before and after every flight, along with disinfecting the boarding area. Even the cockpit is sanitized with a specialized UV light.
No matter how clean a plane is, though, passengers still have a responsibility to wear masks, both inside the plane and in the terminal. People are told about the masking requirement during check-in and again at the gate, and anyone who refuses can be removed from a United flight.
"If they don't [wear a face covering], they actually get taken off the aircraft,” Moscato said.
United is no longer blocking middle seats, but customers on flights that are more than 70% full can request to rebook on a flight that’s not as full, she said.
Even before you board the plane, check-in at T.F. Green is now touchless, using a scanner and your smartphone. The airport is also disinfecting high-touch surfaces throughout the day.
Of course, airlines want passengers to fly. So NBC 10 checked in with a medical expert, too.
"If I did need to travel, sure, I'd feel fine travelling on an airplane right now,” said Dr. John Lonks, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at The Miriam Hospital.
Dr. Lonks said the HEPA filtration systems used onboard planes means the risk of catching COVID-19 from the air you breathe is nearly zero.
"So you're in good shape while the airplane is flying,” he said.
His bigger concern: social distancing.
“The more important thing is the closeness to other people. I mean, it's really the six-foot social distancing. It's not so much that you're in an airplane with many other people. It's who you're close to,” he said.
If you’re taking a shorter flight and can avoid eating and drinking while you’re travelling, it’s a good idea, Dr. Lonks said. That way, you can keep your mask on as much as possible.