Flying During a Pandemic: My Family’s Experience (Plus Travel Tips!)

“Good afternoon, passengers! This is your captain speaking.”

Oh, to be in a plane, high up among the clouds! Do you love to travel? 

The invention of the airplane is one of the modern man’s best inventions. In only a few hours, a plane can cross hundreds of miles. 

However, with the global pandemic, air travel slowed to a crawl this year. As the country opens back up, flights are more readily available, and people are coming out of their homes. But the question remains: When will it be safe to travel? Is it worth the risk?

Flying during a Pandemic Omaha Mom
Can you see all the canceled flights on the flight board?

Back in May, my family was in this predicament. We were moving from the coastal South to the Midwest and left with two options: My kids and I either had to fly to Omaha or drive the 19 plus hours. 

After considering the risks and challenges for both modes of travel, we chose to fly. 

My kids and I fly a lot, but this was a trip like none other we’d experienced. As you might suspect, because of the pandemic, there were fewer passengers, the airport was pin-drop quiet, and there was a sense of trepidation in the air. (This was the end of April.

I don’t think you need to be fearful if you choose to fly. Airlines and airports are doing everything they can to eliminate cross-contamination of passengers. However, healthy habits are more important than ever, especially with kids. 

Whether you take the travel risk will be up to you and your family. But if you do decide to fly, here are five travel tips that worked for my family. 

Cut the Sugar

Whenever we fly, I am more attentive to my kids’ health the week or so before. We take our vitamins, limit sugar, and make sure everyone is healthy before we depart. (We once had an international trip planned when my son came down with what we thought was an ear infection. We almost canceled the trip but were reassured by our pediatrician that we had caught it early enough. He was well by the time our trip commenced.) Especially for this trip, I wanted their immune system to be in the best state. Since sugar can limit the immune system, we cut out all sugar before and during our trip. 

Wash Your Hands and Sanitize! 

Although the CDC now says that COVID-19 does not easily spread through contaminated surfaces, I think sanitizing is a good idea. Like fellow OM contributor Erica, I usually sanitize the airplane seat before my kids sit down. However, this time, I also sanitized the chairs we sat in during our layover. Our scheduled layover was supposed to be 40 minutes, but after a flight cancellation, our delay was THREE HOURS! Usually, we would use a three-hour layover to get all our wiggles out. But because of the situation, I flipped my plan. 

Consider Flipping Screen Time

When we fly, we reserve screen time as a last resort (Read: meltdowns). I bring other activities to keep my kids occupied. However, for this trip, I eased up on my rules. During the flight, they did the activities they had packed in their backpacks. But during our layover, it was all about the screens. My son had a video call with his teacher (we were still doing school at the time) while my two-year-old daughter sat and watched The Sound of Music. I reasoned that it would keep them stationary and not touching a lot of other surfaces. Yes, they watched screens for all three hours of our layover! My kids were thrilled with the setup.

Flying During a Pandemic Omaha Mom
My daughter engrossed in Julia Andrews and “The Hills are Alive!”

Use a Rope

Even though I was cautious about our proximity to people and objects, my very tactile five-year-old still wanted to touch all.the.things. At one point, he stood beside a wall, and yes, you can guess what happened next. He licked it! I was so frustrated. Even having him hold my hand or a piece of luggage wasn’t working. So, with some quick thinking, I undid a strap from our bags, and both kids held on to the “rope” as we traveled through the airport. I had seen this technique used at my daughter’s preschool, and I get it now. It was so useful! Hands stayed on the rope and away from all the other surfaces! (Plus, they couldn’t wander!)

Blow it Out 

Following the lead of Healthy, Happy Kids pediatrician Elisa Song, we’ve been clearing our noses after travel for years. During this trip, we continued the practice a couple of days after we landed because we were in a new environment. There was no guarantee that if we encountered any viruses that this process would expel them. But, I figured, God gave us a nose. We might as well harness this awesome mechanism’s potential. At first, my kids resisted getting saline shot up their nose, but it wasn’t long before they competed with each other to see who could withstand it better. (And then, of course, they would quickly blow their nose, which is the whole point of the exercise anyway.) 

Did we use masks?

It was the end of April when we traveled. There were so few passengers that I felt we could safely social distance. I brought masks along, but we didn’t end up using them. The airports and airlines that we used did not require them; however, a lot has changed since we flew. Most airlines require face masks now and fill planes almost to capacity. This makes social distancing impossible. If you choose to fly, be sure to research your airline’s policies plus all the airports you’ll be in (including your layover). Some airlines also require temperature checks before you fly. Knowing the policies ahead of time will ensure you know what to expect. 

Was it stressful to fly with kids during a pandemic?

Not really. We fly so often that my kids are used to the routine of airplane travel. (And once I figured out the rope thing, I wasn’t as concerned about my son touching all the things.) The flight attendants and airline employees either kept their distance or were their usual cheerful selves. And I could tell that there was a lot of extra cleaning happening. 

As silly as it sounds, the most stressful thing for me was that we didn’t get to go through TSA pre-check. I didn’t realize until too late that all of the screening had to follow the regular rules. Most of our bags got pulled aside to be screened again. But because there were so few passengers, it didn’t take any longer. Also, my mom traveled with us, so it was helpful to have an extra adult around to watch the kids. 

Flying during a Pandemic Omaha Mom
One of my favorite views.

Bonus Tip: Talk to Your Kids Before Traveling 

Talking to them was probably the best thing I did. Before our trip, I spoke to both my kids. Not to scare them, but I wanted them to be aware of why people might be in masks, how to social distance (we used the example of having a big alligator between them and us, which worked for us because we are used to staying away from alligators!), etc. I think it’s essential to prepare kids, no matter their age, as this is all new for them, too. 

Well, all that to say, we made it to Omaha! And after 14 days of self-quarantine, I’m happy to report that we’re all happy and healthy.  

Although traveling during a pandemic is not ideal, it still gets the job done. 

Will you be flying anytime soon? How do you feel about travel opening back up? 

Ashley Shannon
ASHLEY C. SHANNON is a wife, mother, and adventure curator. After living in the coastal South for many years, she's back to her Midwest roots, where she's excited to explore Omaha and paint her experience of motherhood with words. You can find her on IG @Ashley_C_Shannon