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OPINION: Advice for air travel includes not touching your face

OPINION: Advice for air travel includes not touching your face

I just got back from a brief trip overseas which, as you might imagine, was … unusual.

When I left the worry about the coronavirus was just beginning to spread, and while there were warnings about traveling to certain parts of the world, notably China, it hadn’t reached the level of today. It didn’t much matter. I was heading to attend the funeral of a loved one and the only way I would not have gone was if it was impossible.

Once I reached the United Kingdom, however, every day brought fresh worry. My son had to cancel his plan to visit Italy, and I spent some time trying to help him figure out his next step. For a while it looked as though Paris might be a good alternative, but then they closed the Louvre (which has since reopened). When such a prominent destination is shut down, you know the situation has reached a new level.

We’re accustomed to it, but from abroad the incessant partisan squabbling in the U.S. appears absurd and not helpful, particularly when it comes to a health emergency. We can’t seem to do anything without arguing about it, though the virus doesn’t care if you’re left wing, right wing … or a goalie. There was talk about closing the southern border and I began to wonder whether I was going to be let back into my own country.

I can be obsessive when it comes to researching, and the internet accommodates such an affliction. So I spent a few hours more than I’d care to admit one night poring over anything related to the coronavirus. I was looking for tips, and a means to measure my worry. There were both helpful and unhelpful sources of information. Though scientists can be frustrating in their attention to detail and an aversion to summarizing just to be encouraging, it’s better than politicians, who will tell you anything.

Good journalism is also reliable, though I was irritated by one article advising that the safest place to sit on an airplane when it comes to avoiding catching something was a window seat. This is only marginally true and the headline was clickbait. From what I can gather, it turns out the best place to sit, on a plane or anywhere, is not near somebody who is sick. Makes sense.

Avoiding infection also comes down to washing your hands, thoroughly. Wearing a mask was good if you already were infected and didn’t want to spread it to others, but not considered necessary as a way of warding it off.

Then, once you wash your hands, the advice is not to touch your face. I don’t know about you, but to me this was like saying don’t think of an elephant. One thing it made me realize is that I touch my face all the time. I’d had no idea. And it’s difficult advice to follow, because you don’t know you’re touching your face until you’re touching your face. Right?

Moving on. The night before my flight home I was invited to check in online, then told I would not be able to do so. This set off the paranoia alert, and had the effect of making me want to do all I could to follow the advice of getting to the airport early, three hours ahead of my flight.

Heathrow Airport, as you likely know, is a very busy place, but when I pulled up in front of Terminal 3 there didn’t seem to be much of anybody around, even though it was in the late afternoon on a weekday. This held true when I went in, was directed to a security guy who politely asked me a few questions about where I’d been and what I’d been up to, and then to the baggage check and boarding pass stuff and on to screening, in which you have to take off all but all your clothes and put things on trays and raise your arms, which all would have taken five minutes were I not in the habit of being slow about everything.

So there I was, way early. It was encouraging that once I arrived in the duty-free area I discovered that it was where everybody was. And while some wore masks, most didn’t. But boarding the plane was a return to a near solitary experience. In the third of the plane where I was, the part that isn’t first class or business class, there were but 12 of us. I counted. This left plenty of room to follow advice, of spreading out and turning to full blast those air things above the seats, though I didn’t see as necessary sitting by a window. The flight was long but as pleasant as it gets, and returning through JFK was as swift as I can remember it ever being, despite it being a mid-evening weekday. It turns out they let me back into my own country.

So, this might be all incidental, but with all the cancellations we’ve been reading about, traveling is likely to be a different experience. Advice?

Just wash your hands and try not to touch your face. Good luck.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or