I’ve given my recommendations for flying apparel, but here is another physician’s. Dr. David Aranoff, director of the division of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center gave this advice in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
Flying Soon? Here’s the Covid Safety Gear You Do—and Don’t—Need.
Online retailers are touting all kinds of protective gear for germaphobic travelers. While fliers really need to wear some of them, others just constitute overkill.
Updated Oct. 9, 2020 4:19 pm ET
FLIERS ASSEMBLING their travel wardrobes these days face vexing questions: What kind of mask do I need? Should I invest in a face shield or goggles? Traveler’s safety gear comes in a wild assortment of styles—and prices—ranging from a plain 10-cent paper face mask to a $250 head-to-waist hazmat suit, complete with helmet, anti-fogging mask and built-in air purifier. There are Grateful Dead face masks, hot-pink jumpsuits, Space Age shields with bandannas dangling like goatees. Not all airlines are onboard with the fashion show: Air France, for example, only permits a standard-issue surgical mask—no cute cloth masks allowed. Other carriers frown on those Ghostbusters-style jumpsuits. But other than the obligatory face covering, does any of this paraphernalia make you safer, or is it just plague chic? Here, a rundown of flight gear that’s selling online, with notes from medical experts on relative effectiveness.
- Face Masks
Face coverings, now mandatory on virtually all flights, come in three basic flavors: cloth masks that can prevent you from spreading the virus; surgical masks, which offer wearers some protection from other people’s germs; and the gold standard, the N95 version, which can block up to 95% of microbes, but is meant primarily for healthcare workers. How does each hold up in an aircraft cabin? “Comfort is important,” said Dr. David Aronoff, director of the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, who also serves on a health advisory panel for American Airlines. “Try to find one that doesn’t dig into your face, and can last throughout the flight.” Dr. Ravina Kullar, infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist based out of Los Angeles, said that a cloth mask with at least two layers has been shown to be highly effective for non-healthcare workers. “If you can hold the cloth face mask against a light and the light is able to get through, it is not thick enough,” she said. The CDC also says to avoid masks that have valves or vents, which make it easier to breathe but could allow virus particles to escape.
Bottom line: The disposable surgical mask as well as a cloth mask with at least two layers will do the job, according to Dr. Aronoff and the CDC. But check the fit to make sure there aren’t any gaps on the sides.
Since infections could also be spread if droplets land in one’s eye, medical professionals use wraparound goggles when caring for a patient suffering from Covid-19 or other infectious diseases. Now, some airlines, including United and Korean Air, are providing flight attendants with safety goggles, so the traveling public might be wondering if they should follow their lead. “They’re not necessary for routine travelers,” said Dr. Aronoff, though if you’re eager for additional protection—because you’re at higher risk of falling dangerously ill from Covid-19 or simply nervous about flying—then there’s no harm in wearing goggles.
Bottom line: Not essential, but if you want to be extra safe, go for it.
- Hazmat Suits
When model Naomi Campbell posted a photo showing her clad in a head-to-toe protective jumpsuit in-flight, social media went wild. (It looked arguably better on her than it might on the rest of us.) Proper versions are like hermetically sealed space suits, designed to protect workers in a disaster like a chemical cleanup or nuclear accident. But these days you can find dubious lightweight disposable models, including a cotton-candy pink one on Amazon for $21.
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Airlines and medical professionals aren’t enthusiastic. “Entire suits seem to me to be over the top,” said Dr. Aronoff. “It’s hard to see the benefit.” Even worse, added Dr. Kullar, “they may cause fear in other fliers,” which explains why some airlines are considering banning them.
Bottom line: Leave the hazmat suits to those with hazardous jobs. Simply change out of your flying clothes as soon as you arrive at your destination.
- Face Shields
Clear plastic face shields are, let’s face it, pretty strange-looking, but they’re becoming more popular, and are even required on flights with some airlines like Qatar and Philippine. They help protect you from a “direct inoculation from someone right nearby,” said Dr. Aronoff. He believes that face shield designs that include a cloth that hangs down to the wearer’s neck are “probably very effective.” But isn’t a shield overkill if you’re already required to wear a mask? If someone feels more comfortable and protected bolstering her mask with a face shield, said Dr. Gendreau, “that’s fine but it’s not a major improvement.”
Bottom line: Much like goggles, face shields afford extra protection but aren’t critical for most fliers.
Disposable gloves were a popular accessory early in the pandemic, but the CDC doesn’t recommend them, noting that they’re not necessary for the general public in most situations and improperly taking them off could actually spread germs if you’re touching contaminated surfaces. “There is no role for gloves in preventing the spread of Covid-19,” said Dr. Aronoff. “It’s important that people understand that we do not get infected through our skin.” (The virus is transmitted if you touch an infected surface, then touch your nose, mouth or eyes.) Dr. Aronoff recommends, instead, practicing good hand hygiene and avoid handshakes and other direct contact. Dr. Mark Gendreau, chief medical officer at Beverly and Addison Gilbert Hospitals, near Boston, agrees: “Gloves give you a false sense of security and actually lead to more contamination. We actually frown on people wearing gloves in the hospital.”
Bottom line: Don’t bother.