Face shields and sanitizer: 5 things we’re packing for flights during the pandemic

Jul 29, 2020

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If you’re one of the 700,000 or so travelers flying daily in the U.S. right now, you know the experience is far from normal.

In the Golden Age of air travel — you know, before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a global pandemic in March — your biggest concerns when packing for a flight were probably whether the iPad was fully charged, if you remembered your noise-canceling headphones and if you’d forgotten about any oversized liquids in your carry-on.

But now, for many flyers, the priorities have changed.

Sure, having a portable charger may still matter. But having the right face mask, packing disinfecting wipes and remembering to bring all your own snacks and drinks may be even more important.

Most likely, a face mask that covers the nose and mouth will be an inflight necessity for travelers over the age of 2, while the other items on this list are probably optional. But if you’re about to take your first pandemic-era flight, you might want to consider packing some or all of these amenities in your carry-on.

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Face mask

This is a must-have accessory now, though some airlines and airports are providing them in the event you forget to pack your own.

But not all face masks are created equally. You’ve got everything from N95 masks to bandanas and pulled-up neck gators (which are increasingly not sufficient in some locations, such as Disney World). Masks have generally become easier to access, but the rules surrounding face coverings have also gotten tighter.

Delta, for example, recently banned face masks with exhaust valves — along with 120 travelers who refused to comply with the face-covering requirement.

We have an extensive list of our favorite face masks for travel. For longer-use comfort, I’m personally a fan of the Sweaty Betty masks that come in a range of sizes, suiting everyone from older children to large adults. The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly, prefers the Rag and Bone masks that tie behind your head.

(Photo by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy)

For younger kids, our favorite face masks include those by Alex + Nova, Joah Love and Disney. All of these fit little faces well, and Joah Love has the softest material of the three brands.

If you’re hoping to wear an N95 mask for greater protection, those are still hard to come by as they’re needed most by medical professionals and first responders. They are, however, readily available in some airport vending machines. A two-pack of N95 masks cost about $13 from this Orlando Airport (MCO) vending machine.

Related: How airports are preparing for the return of travelers 

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Related: Will face masks keep you safe from viruses on the plane

Face shield

OK, here’s where things get fun — and admittedly bizarre. Let’s talk about whether you’ll want to pack a face shield to go with your mandatory mask.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

No U.S. airlines currently require flyers to wear a face shield. International travel may be another story, though. Qatar Airways, for example, is now requiring economy-class passengers to wear both a face mask and face shield, which are provided.

To be clear, a face shield — even a hilarious one that says “face shield” on it in all capital letters — is not a substitute for a face mask. But it can add an additional layer of protection for the person.

Essentially, a face shield decreases the likelihood that a droplet from another passenger will enter your eyes, nose or mouth. As a barrier, it’s most useful when you’re close to others, such as seated immediately next to a stranger on an airplane or waiting in a cluster on the jetbridge. Plus, it will keep you from accidentally touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

As long as there’s air conditioning, the face shield shouldn’t be too uncomfortable, though it can fog up if you’re talking or it’s very humid. But if you don’t want to wear the shield for the duration of your flight, at least keep it on while boarding and deplaning. (Here are the face shields we ordered and used from Amazon.)

My daughter and I wore our shields for the entirety of our outbound flight, which was quite full. On the flight home, we eventually took them off once we were settled in our seats, as there were no other passengers for several rows.

Related: Comparing flight experiences on United, Spirit, American and Delta

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Disinfecting wipes

Several airlines will now provide passengers with a disinfecting wipe at boarding — but not all. And if you really want to wipe down your entire area you might need more than a single complimentary wipe. When we flew, TSA permitted us to clear security with a full-size bottle of disinfecting wipes.

Pro tip: It helps to keep wipes and hand sanitizer separate when going through security.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

If you’re having a hard time finding disinfecting wipes, they might be available in the same airport vending machines selling masks. I’ve also seen them appear at Sam’s Club, Walgreens and occasionally on Amazon.

Grocery delivery companies, such as Instacart, can also be helpful when selecting the “best available” disinfecting wipes in case your preferred brand is unavailable.

Related: Best credit cards for grocery orders during the pandemic

Hand sanitizer

TSA is allowing travelers to pack one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces in size per passenger in carry-on bags — nearly four times the 3.4-ounce liquid maximum normally allowed. These days, it’s a really good idea to keep hand sanitizer, well, handy, especially if you’re flying with an airline that isn’t going to provide any type of sanitizing solution.

Related: Best — and worst — airlines in the era of coronavirus

Snacks and beverages

While airlines are now resuming more inflight services, being self-sufficient for your flight still isn’t a bad idea right now.

Southwest Airlines, for example, says it’s providing water and snack mix on flights more than 250 miles in distance, when available. But, if you want something else, you better pack your own snacks (just remember, you can’t drink your own alcohol on board).

We had a relatively short flight, so we purposefully planned to avoid any trips to the lavatory on the plane by going easy on the beverages. We did, however, bring our own water. In the end, United passed out all-in-one snack bags. Just research in advance what will be available on your flight, as many services are still limited or suspended.

Related: How HEPA air filters help clean the air on the plane

"Snack pack" in economy (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
“Snack pack” in economy (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

Depending on your own personal research and threshold for risk, you may think this list of what to pack for a flight during the pandemic is extreme — or not nearly extreme enough.

Some air travelers are taking things further with hazmat jumpsuits, washable seat covers, plastic-wrapped tray tables and more. Given all the unknowns, I’m not sure “too careful” is possible when taking a commercial flight in these strange and uncertain times.

So, check your airline’s minimum requirements, and do what you (and your doctor) think is in your best interest the next time you fly. Trust me: The view is still great from above — even if you’re looking through both a face mask and shield.

Featured image courtesy of Summer Hull/The Points Guy

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