What's The Risk Of Flying to Visit Others?

In our series "What's the Risk?" experts weigh in on what risks different scenarios pose for transmitting COVID-19.
Posted at 10:07 AM, Nov 23, 2020

As the holiday season begins, you might be wondering about the risks of getting sick with COVID-19 as you make plans to celebrate. 

We asked the experts, what’s the risk of flying to visit family or friends?

Their take: The risk of contracting COVID-19 from flying to visit others is high.

" It's not what you do, it's how you do it. That really matters," said Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 

"Airlines do have quite a bit of airflow and circulation in the cabins. So it's probably a little bit more riskier than private car travel, but it's still really what the destination is, really the bigger issue," Dr. Irfan Hafiz, infectious disease physician and Northwest Region chief medical officer at Northwestern Medicine, said. 

"You don't know who you're sharing air with on the airplane. And even though you're trying to disinfect seats or handles, it's really what's happening in the flight in the air. And when people still stop and take their masks off to eat or drink or someone coughs or sneezes and they remove their mask, it still carries a potential risk," Dr. Kelly Cawcutt, infectious disease specialist at Nebraska Medicine, said.

"Some folks may be using ride sharing or public transport to get to the airport. Once you're there, although you're going to be socially distancing, you're going to be wearing masks and engaging and hand hygiene. You're still waiting in a lot of lines. There are still crowds," Gonsenhauser added.

"You need to be very cautious to have hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes with you. And I would really advise wearing a mask and truly considering a face shield for the time you are in the airport when you can't socially distance. And for the duration of your flight, if at all possible," Cawcutt said.

For more answers on what is low, medium, or high risk, visit