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The 3 airport areas I'm avoiding until I'm fully vaccinated

Feb. 13, 2021
5 min read
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Throughout the pandemic, we've largely been responsible for ensuring our own safety. Sure, initial lockdowns made it all but impossible to eat out or go to a gym, but there's always been the risk of COVID-19 exposure, whether we're passing through an airport halfway around the world or just shopping for groceries in our hometown.

Great ventilation and enforced mask mandates help keep airplanes relatively safe — though I won't book a flight just for fun, as I may have done in the past — but plenty of other steps during a passenger's journey can add significant risk.

As outlined by The Washington Post this week, Harvard University researchers evaluated the risk facing travelers throughout their journey and had some important tips to pass along.

While the report acknowledges that some steps airports have taken can help mitigate spread, the authors note that airports still need to "analyze and optimize ventilation systems where feasible; reduce congestion where possible; and regularly remind travelers of critical behaviors – mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand hygiene."

Researchers released a list of 10 "reminders," to help minimize risk during your journey:

  1. Follow testing and quarantine requirements prior to or upon airport arrival. Be part of the solution.
  2. Monitor COVID-19 symptoms. When sick, isolate. Don’t fly. Be responsible.
  3. If exposed to someone positive for COVID-19, follow CDC recommendations to quarantine and test.
  4. Plan your trip through the airport - those steps from the curb to your gate - maintaining physical distance.
  5. Wear your mask at all times and do not remove it except for very short periods to eat or drink.
  6. Disinfect hands after touching surfaces such as check-in machines, TSA security bins, or bathroom fixtures.
  7. Minimize time in restrooms and avoid crowded restrooms, even though they have negative air pressure.
  8. Avoid crowded areas, such as boarding gates, until time to do so. Find less crowded areas to wait.
  9. Politely request face mask compliance from someone not doing so. If refused, alert an airport employee.
  10. On arrival, maintain distance when retrieving checked baggage.

As we continue to hear, wearing a robust, properly fitting mask is absolutely essential, especially with the risk of more contagious variants making the rounds, but I've added extra precautions, especially when it comes to my travel routine.

With so many unknowns when it comes to ventilation — namely, there's no way to be certain that an infected, maskless traveler hasn't recently spoken, coughed or sneezed in that same space — I'm being especially cautious when it comes to airports, limiting time spent in three key areas.

Airport lounges

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

We all love a good lounge, and soon I'm sure we'll be eating, drinking and enjoying the various other amenities once again. For now, however, lounges present an increased risk.

Occupants are more likely to be eating and drinking, given the snack spread and open bar, and it can be difficult to avoid crowding, especially during peak times.

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Airport lounges also tend to be filled with high-fare customers, who airline employees may be more hesitant to upset — a lounge attendant might be inclined to look the other way if they spot a maskless guest, and assume they're "eating and drinking," or intend to soon.

Perhaps most important, though, many lounges are located in smaller sub-sections of the airport, often behind closed doors and with limited airflow, which means COVID-19 particles can linger in the air lounge after an infected traveler has left.

Restaurants and food courts

(Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

If airport lounges present a high risk of encountering travelers without masks, at restaurants and food courts, it's absolutely guaranteed.

Lively environments also mean customers will be talking more loudly, while alcohol can lead to more laughter and less distance — all contributing factors when it comes to exhaling (and inhaling) aerosol particles, and spreading COVID-19.

Food courts could be a slightly safer alternative, with more spacing and the potential for smaller crowds, but if you need to eat or drink, the best option is to find a quiet corner of the airport and remove your mask for very short periods of time.

Crowded restrooms

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

This one may be unavoidable, especially after a long flight, but for one reason or another, I almost always encounter maskless travelers in the bathroom.

Some may have a legitimate need to remove their mask, to shave or brush their teeth, but there otherwise seems to be an unwritten rule that you can pull your mask down to your chin as you go about your business.

Let me assure you, it's entirely possible to keep your face covered up in the loo, but since so many people choose not to, I consider public bathrooms to be especially high risk.

I'll only enter a public restroom when wearing a properly fitting N95 mask, and I always count backward from 60, making sure I'm in and out as quickly as I can be.

Bottom line

While the best way to limit your exposure is to avoid travel altogether, if you are going to fly, it's essential to wear a proper mask whenever possible and be especially thoughtful about every step of the process, from the time you leave your home to the moment you arrive at your hotel room.

Once the pandemic is behind us, we'll all be traveling the world yet again. There are plenty of good times ahead — we just need to get through the next few weeks and months.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
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  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023