Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: How to Travel Safely During Covid-19

3 answers to common questions about getting around during the pandemic

Elemental Editors
Published in
5 min readMay 19, 2020


Photo: Andreas Zitlau/EyeEm/Getty Images

These questions are adapted from Medium’s Coronavirus Blog.

What does safe travel look like during a pandemic? Here are some expert opinions on planes, cars, bike-shares, and more.

If I need to travel, is it better to take a plane or car?

The pandemic has thrown a wrench into the summer plans of people around the world. Right now, many places have stay-at-home orders in place that largely restrict travel. However, as states begin lifting these restrictions, or as people need to move, there are questions about the safest way to do so. Is it better to take a road trip but risk stops along the way? Or is it better to take an airplane and spend hours in tight quarters with strangers?

“Any form of travel at this current time in the Covid-19 pandemic involves risk,” says Jill Weatherhead, MD, an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine. “Knowing the most up-to-date information regarding the virus and travel restrictions is critical.”

Weatherhead points out that taking public forms of transportation like buses, trains, or planes can undoubtedly mean close exposure to more people in different areas of the country. “While waiting within airports, bus spots, and train stations, as well as while riding in planes, buses, and trains, practice social distancing as much as possible. Disinfecting highly touched surfaces, such as seats, trays, arm rests, and wearing a facial covering may help reduce viral transmission during travel,” she says.

What about the lack of airflow on a plane? “Modern planes are equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which filter particles from recycled air, reducing risk of viral spread through the air,” Weatherhead says. “However, it won’t necessarily prevent droplet or contaminated surface transmission of the virus if in close contact with sick individuals.”

Robin Patel, MD, president of the American Society for Microbiology, takes a stronger stance on flying. “Traveling in your own car…