How to Eat on a Plane Without Getting Sick

How to Eat on a Plane Without Getting Sick
Photo: Pavel Skopets, Shutterstock

While certain aspects of pandemic air travel — like wearing masks onboard the plane when you’re not eating or drinking — are still very much in effect, others are slowly transitioning back to their pre-COVID iterations. Take in-flight meal service, for example: There was a period of time when it was significantly scaled back, or stopped entirely, but now, depending on the length of the flight, airline meals and snacks are back on the (tray) table.

And though we’ve been reassured (repeatedly) that the constantly-filtered air circulating inside planes is safe, the risk of getting sick from coronavirus or other pathogens — while low — still exists. Wearing effective face masks decreases that risk, but what about if you remove yours during meal service? Here’s what to know about eating safely while on a plane.

Is it safe to eat during a flight?

According to research published earlier this year in the Journal of Travel Medicine, if the passengers on a 12-hour flight take their masks off for a one-hour meal service, it increases the risk of COVID infection by 59%, compared to if they had all left their masks on for the entire duration of the flight.

But, as Elazar Sontag points out in a recent article for Eater, it’s not realistic to ask people not to eat or drink for 12 hours. Here’s what he suggests doing instead.

How to eat safely while on a plane

The main cause for the increased risk of COVID infection during meal service, according to the researchers involved with the study, is having so many people removing their masks at the same time. And while they recommend that airlines stagger their meal service — serving groups of passengers while the rest keep their masks on — as Sontag mentions, it’s unlikely that such a policy will be adopted anytime soon.

In the meantime, he recommends waiting a few minutes to eat (or drink) after your in-flight delicacies have been served. That way, you can keep your mask on while those around you take it off to eat, and remove yours after they’ve put theirs back on and their filthy mouths are safely covered once again.

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