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Long flights or layovers: which is safest in the age of COVID?

The original Kangaroo Route from Australia to London was named for the seven stops it made over four days back in 1947. Nowadays, it’s one leap. But it’s a long one. 


And it’s a flight I probably would have avoided when travelling with a young child. A not-too-long stop in Singapore was great when we travelled with a two year old. There, she could burn off that crazy energy that all two year olds have before settling in for, preferably, a night flight. 


But then COVID. So what’s safer now? To layover or not to layover, that is question.



For the fully immunised (that means boosted), experts seem to trust in the ventilation and air circulation of current aircraft — especially when combined with mask mandates.  


Alexander Rodgers, an assistant professor at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine & Science in Los Angeles told the Washington Post direct flights are the way to go, simply because fewer stops means fewer people with whom you have contact.


“Just by probability, you decrease the number of chances you’re exposed to somebody who is positive for COVID,” Rodgers said.


But being packed on a plane with a bunch of people you don’t know who have been to a bunch of places you haven’t, means we should protect ourselves as best we can. That means masks and that means vaccination. 


“If you’ve had a booster within four months, you’ve got a significant level of neutralising antibodies that are going to really reduce your chances of catching COVID,” Mark Gendreau, an expert in aviation medicine and chief medical officer of BILH Beverly and Addison Gilbert hospitals said. 


Most experts agree that flyers should also wear a well-fitting N95 or KN95 mask throughout travel, and remove them sparingly and strategically.


That means keep your mask on when everyone’s got theirs off to eat and don’t linger over a meal. And pack more than one so that you can swap them out. 


And when it’s time to deplane. Just wait rather than get up close and personal with your fellow flyers. 

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Published: 18 February 2022

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